When it comes to digital imaging, the question is no longer “Should we convert to PACS?” but “When are we converting to PACS?” This image and information archive system is a must, and by now, most facilities have realized that they can no longer do without one. Almost as important as the system, however, is the administrator who maintains it. Called a PACS administrator (PA)—but more increasingly being referred to as an imaging informatics professional (IIP)—this position is vital to any PACS implementation and should be filled as early in the process as possible, even before the vendor evaluation begins. To aid in your hiring of a PA/IIP, writer Dana Hinesly has compiled five steps to choosing the best and most qualified person as well as a list of essential questions to ask during the interview.

However, many people are still a little unclear as to the exact role of the PA/IIP—and with good reason. I attended a session called “What’s My Job?” at the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM of Great Falls, Va) Annual Meeting at the end of April. Lance P. Ford, IT director and PA at Arkansas Medical Imaging (Little Rock), said of his job, “A PACS administrator is expected to know everything with extreme knowledge and the bedside manner of a family doctor.” He couldn’t have phrased it better.

And as we discover in Hinesly’s article, the PA/IIP is responsible for knowing about, understanding, and maintaining computers, software, applications, networking, databases, storage, and other IT-related issues, as well as radiology and the field’s intricate and complicated workflow. With so many requirements, is it feasible—particularly at larger facilities—that the PA/IIP role be filled by just one person? If a PA/IIP is required to know all things IT and radiology, we’re expecting a lot from one person—and in a very demanding, high-pressure job.

In fact, earlier this year, we polled Medical Imaging readers for our second-annual salary survey, the results of which were featured in our July issue. About 7% of the respondents were PACS/RIS administrators, and of that group, many (31%) said that their workload was not acceptable. When asked to explain, almost all of those respondents said there was just too much work to be done; one person wrote, “The perception of what a PACS admin can do is too high.” We also asked what could help ease their workload, and almost every PACS/RIS administrator’s response was at least one more full-time employee—and this answer was given whether or not the respondent felt his or her workload was acceptable.

So really, I think we’re dealing with two separate issues here. First, we need a very specifically skilled person to fill the role, someone with well-rounded experience, an even-keeled nature, and knowledge of both IT and radiology. To help facilitate finding the best candidates, SIIM is developing a program so that PAs/IIPs can earn the credential of Certified Imaging Informatics Professional (CIIP). SIIM’s goal is to define a standard for demonstrating the knowledge and competence necessary for IIPs as well as recognizing the distinct competencies that varying backgrounds bring to the profession. Throughout May on its Web site, SIIM asked for opinions about the CIIP test blueprint. SIIM expects to hold the first examination in September 2007, and we’ll be highlighting further developments.

The second issue, of course, is determining whether one person is enough to successfully handle the job. Along with many others, I believe that one just isn’t enough. Imagine if (gasp!) the PA/IIP ever wants to take a vacation? Or, what if he or she gets sick? If nothing else, every facility needs a backup PA/IIP. Perhaps an easy solution for the meantime is 1.5 people to fill the job, as Stuart Gardner of SG&A Consulting Inc suggests in Hinesly’s article. He recommends that the other “half” person be an IT team member or a tech-savvy technologist.

The good news is that, based on our survey, 99% of the PACS/RIS administrators who responded would recommend their job to others. Most agreed that it’s a rewarding and challenging career. And certainly with the upcoming CIIP and the expected PACS adoption rate, the career is booming. So I wish you all luck—both the PAs/IIPs who are embarking on this fast-paced career and the facilities looking to hire this PACS must-have.

Andi Lucas, editor