This month marks my 4-year anniversary as editor of Axis Imaging News. When I took this position, I knew I would be learning a great deal about medical imaging modalities—from MRI to mammography, from ultrasound to CT to nuclear medicine. What’s more, during the course of my tenure, I’ve seen brand-new modalities, like breast tomosynthesis, brought to market.

But what was not so clear to me when I began this job was the vast amount I would need to learn (and am still learning) about imaging informatics technology. PACS and RIS are just the tip of the iceberg. Imaging informatics tools remain a driving force in the business of radiology as was recently reinforced at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM).

Clearly, the benefits of technology to enhance workflow and increase productivity are evident. But the bigger issue is the fact that informatics solutions are playing an increasingly important role as the world of radiology (and health care in general) becomes more regulated. At the SIIM event, I was interested in learning more about two critical and specific topics: Meaningful Use and the role technology will play in Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs).

Meaningful Use was a hot topic. At one of the general sessions, Keith J. Dreyer, DO, PhD, FSIIM, of Massachusetts General Hospital gave a presentation titled “Meaningful Use in Medical Imaging: New Technologies for US Healthcare Reform.” The talk focused on what radiology practices should be doing to ensure that they achieve Meaningful Use. He explained how radiologists will be required to “meaningfully” utilize certified technology that meets the 25 measures and objectives defined by CMS, noting that there are some measures from which radiologists would be exempt. Whether it’s new or existing, all technology will need to be certified before it is considered acceptable for Meaningful Use.

Dreyer did a thorough job of walking the audience through the maze of Meaningful Use. For radiology practices, Dreyer said that RIS and practice management solutions will probably play the most important role in Meaningful Use. He described how radiologists can analyze their practices and technical infrastructure to determine which Meaningful Use measures they may already be eligible for; what practices should ask their vendors; and when it might make sense to call in a consultant.

What I found most surprising were the results of a relatively recent industry poll that Dreyer mentioned. Essentially, it asked radiologists what their organizations have done to prepare for Meaningful Use. Approximately one-third of respondents replied that they had not focused on the matter at all; another third said they had done some research but had not taken any action steps; and another third responded that they had a plan in place. Dreyer’s message: Do not delay any longer. Now is the time for radiology practices to act in order to qualify for Meaningful Use incentives.

Meaningful Use is just one challenge facing the radiology community today. Many experts anticipate that Accountable Care Organizations will become the health care model of the future. Because ACOs are intended to create incentives for providers to work together to treat an individual patient experience across care settings, technology will play a key role. More than ever, radiology practices will need the right solutions to streamline communications, share imaging information, distribute results, and measure outcomes.

Providing high-quality patient care will always be the top priority for radiology practices. But it simply won’t be possible unless your technological house is in order.

Marianne Matthews

Marianne Matthews