Friday, October 1, 2010

Conforming DICOM Conformance Statements

I still come across very poorly written DICOM conformance statements. For example: Conformance statements from the major modality vendors are generally over 100 pages and can be up to 400 pages in length. On the other hand, there are some mid-level and smaller modality vendors that submit only 10 page documents. Although quantity does not always mean quality, it's a good bet that there is a lot left to the imagination of the user when they only have a 10-page DICOM conformance statement from which to work. 

I believe the DICOM standard should specify, in detail, what elements belong in a conformance statement. Further, the standard should include boilerplate samples of what this might look like. In this way, there would be very little wiggle room for vendors to submit less-than-adequate conformance statements with their products. They would either be compliant with the DICOM standard conformance statement or they would not. 

Having a complete conformance specification is your right as a consumer. For example, would you buy a car without knowing what type of engine was powering it? It might come in handy to know if it is oil cooled or water cooled, how many cylinders it has, what type of fuel it requires and so on. You probably wouldn't rely on the smiling salesman saying, "Trust me." So, doesn't it make sense to insist on the same level of information when buying a patient-critical medical device? 

Another area the DICOM standard committee should take up is the publishing format of conformance statements. By requiring that all DICOM conformance statements be encoded in the XML format, it would allow for the easy comparison of comparability elements among various documents. For example, one could easily check among various CT offerings that they implement the enhanced CT multiframe SOP Class with a receiving PACS archive and workstation. 

I know that some vendors have begun to encode their documents in XML, but a uniform standard would be helpful. In any case, the absence of a publishing standard still does not justify the wide variety and lack of detail in some vendors' DICOM conformance statements. I hope they read this column and take action.