Editor’s Note: In this edition of “Informatics Report,” Michael Mack refers to several of his previous columns published in Medical Imaging. If you don’t have your back issues handy, fear not: They’re all here online. Visit our archives for all of Mack’s prior columns as well as issues of the magazine dating back to 2000.

The August 2005 edition of “Informatics Report” discussed the results of a survey that the Thomas Group Ltd (Anaheim, Calif) conducted with some of our current and former clients about PACS administration?specifically, what was involved in hiring a PACS administrator (PA) and their responses to nine questions that we asked. At that time, I said I would write a future column with respect to the ninth and final question we asked: “On reflection, what is the one thing that you would do differently in hiring a PA?” Well, welcome to the future. This month, I will discuss the responses we received and provide my insight into what they can mean for you.

First, although many of our clients hired PAs who had a variety of modality backgrounds, it seems to be very common for the person selected to be a CT or MRI technologist with a solid, if not strong, computer background. As I noted in my previous column, a PA’s knowledge of radiology workflow and terminology is valuable for supporting and leading the PACS introduction and for ongoing project support. Existing familiarity with digital imaging is conducive to the departmental migration away from a film-based and film-driven workflow.

One of my personal favorite responses reflected how the hospital now has a better idea of what skill sets are critical to success and credited luck for the excellent person they did hire. The exact response was, “I would look for the following: Someone who embraces change and is eager to learn new things; someone who has a good, thorough knowledge of radiology and the information systems used in radiology; someone with good communication skills; and someone with a strong work ethic.” Finding the perfect candidate with strengths in all of these areas could be difficult; however, it has been my experience that?with help, support, and mentoring?many times, existing employees in radiology can be grown into this position. Of course, a strong work ethic helps any bright, driven employee to succeed. Being a change agent and having a strong commitment to the benefits of the technology is certainly invaluable.

Some feedback was very short and to the point, such as: “Hire two.” Although hiring more than one person for most single-facility hospitals is not a feasible solution, this comment touches on making sure that your facility does have a backup person who is trained and familiar with the project. Your primary person will take vacation, be sick, or just be unavailable at times; therefore, you must plan for backup (redundancy) to provide supplemental support. Several of my clients are at multi-hospital systems where, to support each facility, a dedicated PA supports the individual sites and is under a system-wide PA who oversees the entire health system. This method provides a strong infrastructure for coverage issues. Also, remember that just like your RIS, PACS is 24/7. Support could be needed at any time, and your PA might need some coverage relief-especially if there have been a number of after-hours incidents.

Another respondent suggested ensuring that the IT department and your PA be on the same page, which will eliminate any potential turf battles. This response clearly reflects the importance of a multifunctional team commitment to project success. I detailed several concerns about politics in my January 2005 column. However, sometimes success revolves around the relationship between departments and their understanding of what each can, should, and is expected to deliver during the project’s implementation and support. For example, if IT does not appreciate the intricacies of radiology workflow and modality idiosyncrasies, it will create friction. Likewise, conflict can be introduced if radiology does not understand the challenges of IT to maintain hardware integrity and lock down computers to keep others from introducing unapproved software, screensavers, streaming Internet music, and the like. When image and report data can be delivered via an EMR, it is even more important for departments to work hand in hand. It is vital that each department understands and appreciates the skill set that each person brings to the project and how these skill sets can be leveraged to maximize the successful roll-out of new technology across the enterprise.

As noted above, some radiology administrators and I have mentioned the importance of radiology knowledge. However, one respondent was very adamant that communication skills are just as important-true indeed. An individual with strong radiology knowledge but poor communication skills can, in fact, alienate other users when utilizing the technology. We have all worked with people who are very good at what they do but are dismissed by colleagues and are minimized due to their own weak interpersonal skills.

Finally, we received a couple of responses in regard to being remiss about not hiring PAs sooner in the process. If you are certain that your PACS project will be budgeted, the earlier that you can introduce that PA to the project the better. He or she will know why the vendor was selected, will be aware of any project decisions or trade-offs that were made to move the project forward, and will be a part of the team preparing for implementation. Having been privy to all activities and having participated in the site walk-through and workflow discussions, he or she will be committed to your plan.

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One of our survey respondents mentioned facility issues, specifically pay grades that ultimately drove their PAs to leave for a market-driven salary elsewhere. So, as with most things, you do get what you pay for. Make sure that your investment in your PA’s talent is appropriately compensated, or you will lose that person. I would encourage you to speak to your consultant about the market wages and make any necessary adjustments to minimize this risk.

The best PACS product alone is not usually enough to ensure a successful PACS implementation. Without strong PA leadership and commitment, you most likely will put a strain on your project, which will limit your success. So move forward with your eyes open, and focus on a PA with the skill set that will make your life easier. And do not wait to find this person. I can say from experience that good PAs certainly have helped make my projects easier and incredibly successful.

Michael Mack is VP of business development at the Thomas Group Ltd (Anaheim, Calif). Having more than 20 years of experience in the medical imaging industry, Mack now specializes in PACS planning and implementation.