Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Why you should attend SIIM

Site of the upcoming SIIM conference:
Gaylord at National Harbor
Hundreds of healthcare imaging and IT professionals gather every year at the annual SIIM meeting,
which is coming up May 31 – June 2 in Washington DC. I have attended these events since they were called “SCAR” and have seen the changes in the medical imaging informatics industry being reflected at these meetings over the many years. I am looking forward to attending this year again and would recommend it for any healthcare imaging and informatics professional for the following top ten reasons:

1.      It’s a great place to network. We are working in somewhat of a niche profession. Many institutions have only a single PACS administrator for radiology, and even though you might have a colleague in cardiology and someone in pathology who is getting his or her feet wet in managing digital images, many of you might feel as if you are on a small island. You don’t have many people to talk with about your problems, issues and good practices. At SIIM you’ll find literally hundreds of people who all are in the same boat, many have the same systems you are using, and face the same challenges with their systems, vendors and users.
2.      You’ll be able to find out “what’s new” from a technology perspective. New applications for capturing dose information from your CT’s, software providing Decision Support, AI support tools, and using VNA as the core enterprise archive are all relatively new technologies you want to learn about, to find out if they make sense for your institution.
3.      You’ll be able to discover “what’s new” from a vendor perspective. Mergers, consolidations, acquisitions, new company names and branding are very common in our industry. If you are using a vendor who is not exhibiting at SIIM you might think about having a plan B i.e. replacement strategy. Sometimes it is just a matter of knowing the new name. Don’t be looking for your ACUO VNA, McKesson or Merge PACS but rather for Hyland, Change Healthcare and IBM.
4.      At SIIM you have a much better opportunity to kick the tires than at other tradeshows. Compared with large trade shows such as RSNA where you must make appointments to get a demo on a tiny monitor with three rows of people in front of you, at SIIM you can walk up to a friendly sales rep and get a one-on-one demo of the latest product features. This is important for new purchases and upgrades.
5.      You can talk with your vendor especially with large companies, and ask about specific problems, whereas it might take a while to get your messages through about certain features, issues, workflow solutions, or alternate solutions the rest of the year, at SIIM your vendors are easily accessible. Note that this works both ways, trade shows are key for vendors to collect data from customers about what features they like and don’t like, and what upgrades they would like to see prioritized in upcoming releases.
6.      Find out from other users about specific issues. Again, as an imaging professional you are somewhat on an island and you might find out that a nagging issue is not unique to your specific installation or use, even though a vendor might say “we don’t see the same problem anywhere else.” There is a strength in numbers, so knowing that your problems are not unique can give you more ammunition to get it fixed
7.      Learn a few new tools and tricks. This is my personal favorite as the learning labs are a great resource to become familiar with, for example using a DICOM sniffer to find out why a device does not want to communicate with the PACS or drops random packets, or is using a validation tool such as DVTK for validating a DICOM header so you’ll know what to fix to enable a physician to view the image. These workshops are highly recommended, and are very popular, so I recommend signing up for these as soon as you can.
8.      Understand what’s hype and what’s real. If you read the social media, radiologists will become obsolete in the next 5 years due to the increase in Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications, we’ll get reimbursed in bitcoins, and if you won’t have a VNA or deconstructed PACS you’ll be left behind by the competition. SIIM is a good meeting to not only hear from experts their opinions, but most importantly from real users, especially the early adopters, what their experiences are. This allows you to decide to jump ship and ride the next wave or wait a few more years until these fads either mature or fade away.
9.      Learn about best practices. Even though most hospitals are somewhat different regarding practices and workflow, there are a lot of best practices that can be shared among these institutions. Quality measures such as ER discrepancies and how to manage these, peer reviews, what is a reasonable number of retakes, and how to minimize these, are good KPI’s to compare against. These can be used to improve efficiency, patient care, safety and cost.
10.   Have fun. My kind of fun is participating in the early morning 5k fun run, have a beer and/or sushi with industry friends and colleagues, and sneak away for a few hours or take an extra day to visit a museum and do some sightseeing. Because of my involvement with the DICOM committee meetings, I have been to DC probably close to 100 times (imagine 6 meetings/yr for at least 15 years…) but there are still parks, museums, neighborhoods to visit or revisit.

When you visit, I suggest arriving prepared and set clear goals and objectives, such as meeting with a minimum of 5 people with the same system, looking for a at least three different replacement solutions, etc. However, have realistic expectations, don’t expect to come back an expert. There is a place for tradeshows such as SIIM, and a (different) place for fundamental, intense hands-on training. 

So don’t expect to become proficient in DICOM or HL7, different PACS architectures, or know the details of using Wireshark or Mirth. Tradeshows are a good place to enhance your training and career but view them as complementary to your other education and training options such as reading textbooks, attending in-depth training classes or seminars.

As a final caution, as you to get back to your own environment over-stimulated, but as you return to your own system with its limited versions, capabilities, budget constraints etc., be prepared for some disillusionment. But at least you can challenge your status-quo and be knowledgeable and share what you’ve learned! And last but not least know that you had fun!