Enterprise Imaging Teams: Who, What, When and How?

I’m more and more frequently being asked ‘what does an Enterprise Imaging team look like?’  Given that the term is relatively new, and that there will be variances based on the individual organization’s needs, there are no hard-and-fast rules for creating an Enterprise Imaging (EI) team.  However, there are many components to keep in mind, and in this article, I will share with you some key considerations for EI team creation.  I believe that your EI team is a separate entity from the traditional PACS/CPACS team.  Enterprise imaging teams have a very different tempo and focus when compared to the, more organizationally static, PACS team.  Another foundational aspect of EI team creation is to understand that it is ultimately an operational team, not a project team.  There are certainly some project elements, but the majority of effort is spent maintaining operations versus discrete projects.  The size of the EI team will vary, depending on the size and complexity of the organization, but irrespective of size the ideal EI department will include the following skillsets.

Clinical workflow:  As the EI team works directly with clinical departments it is critical that there is an understanding of how things operate in the ED, Radiology, Cardiology and imaging centers.  Having a deep understanding of workflow will help to keep the EI team patient-focused and able to respond appropriately to the clinician’s needs.

Application administration:  The applications administrators keep the wheels turning and green lights blinking.  This is the hands-on monitoring of VNA queues, image viewer servers, HL7 interfaces etc.  Each system will have some amount of daily work that has to be done to keep them in good health.

Infrastructure: EI systems use a tremendous amount of infrastructure both in terms of storage and network bandwidth.  If not managed correctly this can impact other departments, to the detriment of patient care.  The EI team should have a thorough understanding of infrastructure’s technology at its most fundamental level, and then be able to translate application system requirements back to the infrastructure team.

Project Management:  Even though the team is operational, there are always projects that impact the systems.  PM experience on the team allows the EI group to effectively schedule upgrade and deployment work while interfacing with other project teams.

Training:  As systems are rolled out within the EI department the team will ideally have skilled trainers that can go onsite to instruct local PACS teams and/or physicians in the use of clinic-facing applications.  Not having to outsource all training to the vendor saves the organization substantial money, and allows for the self-service of deployments.

Troubleshooting: The EI team should be consistently working toward the ability to operate as tier 1 and tier 2 support for applications supported.  This is beyond the basics of how to navigate around on the interface, and should include a deep understanding of the back-end of each application. Vendors rarely support your system with the same passion and timeline as your internal resources will!

Data migration: A VNA is only as valuable as the data in it, which means that for the vast majority of systems connected to VNA there is a data migration to be run.  The team needs to be experts in the mechanics of data migrations, particularly in the reconciliation and verification that occurs at the end of a migration.  In general, the EI team should be running data migrations as most organizations will realize a significant cost savings keeping this task inhouse.

PACS Administration: Configuring and supporting EI systems requires a thorough understanding of the systems that they interface with, namely PACS and CPACS.  Many of the problems that EI teams face result from eccentricities of the source systems.  Knowing how each source system is deployed and how they operate is critical to configuring and troubleshooting.

Department head: Ultimately the team leader should be at an appropriate level within the organization to garner the resources needed to operate this critical set of applications.  While all the typical skills are necessary such as managing direct reports, running meeting, budgets, etc., they must also be comfortable operating as Chief Evangelization Officer of the EI team, spreading the word of EI to the rest of the organization, as more departments are included.

Depending on the size and scope of the organization, EI team members may be asked to wear multiple hats.  Delegation of duties notwithstanding, to create an efficient Enterprise Imaging team each one of the skill-sets discussed should be represented.  To go one step further and create an EI team of excellence, start with your foundation and hire the best of the best!  The more effectively your EI team does its job, the more effectively physicians can do theirs.  Great EI team = great patient care!