Article – Registries playing catch up with Stage 3

As Meaningful Use criteria advances to require sharing of population information with registries, this article explores some opinions on the readiness of public health agencies to accept and manage this data.

Is Radiology ready now? Check out all the ACR registries.

100th Blog Post: What I know about Software Development and Crisis Management

I started writing this blog post about this…

Opinions on policy and politics aside, this article on the struggles of tells a classic tale of large software development project failures, and how not to react when trying to solve the issues.

But as I continued to write my thoughts, this became more about my views on software development and crisis management. So, enjoy (or ignore, or comment).

Hopefully, it is worthy of my 100th blog post (which this is).

On software development

  • Software development, no matter how much research is done on development methodology effectiveness, is as much art as it is science. Treat the artists like factory workers, and you get what you deserve.
  • Not all software developers are great at developing all applications in all languages, using all tools. Web development, especially when connecting to legacy systems, is a specific discipline. The best Web developers don’t work at large contract system development houses, in my experience. That’s usually because there are more interesting projects in the world for them to work on.
  • In software, one of the most common reasons for failure is complexity. For large projects like the one cited in the article, you have to work very hard to come up with an architecture that makes concepts and aspects of the application simple to extend and use. This is not cheap—it takes time and significant energy from artists to achieve. But, when it is achieved, it is a beautiful thing. You owe it to yourself to experience this at least once in your career.
  • Never ignore or otherwise skimp on quality User Experience Design (UXD). Never.
  • Designs change. New needs and unidentified technical risks are discovered. Requirements evolve. But if you want to get something done on time, quit changing the (in scope) requirements. If a good design forces you to re-write significant parts of your requirements, that is a good sign that you didn’t write effective requirements. In fact, they may not be true requirements at all. And, BTW, a list of features from a competitor’s brochure are not requirements. If you don’t how to write effective, (mostly) design-neutral requirements, learn. Start here. Then read this.
  • Well-written use cases—that everyone on the team has read and understands—solve a lot of problems. So does identifying the operating environment and performance goals sooner rather than later. Tip: Print this stuff out and hang on the walls were the developers and testers sit. Or (if you want to save some trees) make a JPEG of it and ask everyone to set it as their desktop wallpaper for the duration of the project.
  • Make developers create unit and integration tests for their code. Have them do code reviews with peers. Make them use code comments and consistently format their code. Make them fix their own bugs. Hold them accountable to the quality of software build they provide to the test team. Make them perform design checkpoints with their peers (or even customers) for any significant component. Anything less and they are not a serious professional developer.
  • Developing for security and performance are specific skill sets, but these are most often “want to” issues. As in, if a talented developer truly wants their product to be secure and fast, they will figure out how to make it happen.
  • Do daily stand ups. Make the product manager show up.
  • A good tester is as valuable as a good software developer. So is a good technical documentation person. They are artists too.
  • Give them all good, fast computers with at least two monitors and reliable Internet access. You want something done faster, remove inexpensive barriers.
  • Don’t make them pay for coffee. And don’t buy the cheap stuff.

On crisis management (in IT)…

  • The comment in the article about the “war room” is spot-on. I call it “the body cannon”. When **it hits the fan, there is usually some executive wanting to pull anyone and everyone off their current work and throw them at the problem, with no real plan. They are simply hoping that through volume, that the problem will be solved faster, when in fact it usually has the opposite affect. The better approach: select a small team of talented, trusted artists (that know the code!) and simply ask them: “What do you need?”, and then get it for them ASAP. Then, be prepared to pay the price of pulling these people off their current project (usually in the form of a schedule slip), once the crisis is over. These things are always about choices, not decisions.
  • Yelling at software developers doesn’t work. People that choose a career creating art by typing all day with headphones on are not the type that react well to yelling. If you don’t know how to convey a sense of urgency without yelling, the problem is you. If you don’t understand the problem or software really well, get out of the way.
  • If you have hired talented people, they can become heroes. Let them.

And, finally, if you are making an application for use in healthcare, take it seriously. Lives are at stake. It can still be fun and rewarding, but the problems within healthcare are large and demand our best efforts all the time. Now, go be great.

Imaging 3.0 at ACR Annual Imaging Informatics Summit

Quote: “If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.”

Dr. Bibb Allen talking about the importance of accepting change to the practice of Radiology, explained the rationale behind the American College of Radiology’s Imaging 3.0 framework.

Imaging 3.0 - Dr. Bibb Allen

Article: EHR copy and paste? Better think twice

When I think about how much effort is put into ensuring the right info gets associated with the right patient in standards and interoperable records, the thought that a patient’s clinical info could be “corrupted” through copy-paste by users is very scary.

EHR copy and paste? Better think twice | Healthcare IT News

Post-SIIM 2013 Annual Meeting Reflections

Another great SIIM annual meeting is behind us and it was great, as always. I am going to post some thoughts and reflections this week.

Today, I have been thinking about analytics and, in particular, the use of a workflow engine and a standardized set of terms and definitions (such as what is being defined in SWIM) to ensure analysis of workflow events (type, timing, relationships, patterns, etc.) consistently across systems.

There were several great talks by Dr. Brad Erickson and Chris Meenan and others on the topic and these were followed by a large turnout of engaged attendees for a SWIM demo (see pic below).

...SWIM lessons
…SWIM lessons

My thoughts…

  • The use of a mature, off-the-shelf (open source or commercial) workflow engine has been considered by PACS and RIS vendors, with some attempting to use them in their product. It has not been widely adopted for two main reasons (I believe)…
  1. Most PACS from large vendors were bought, not built by them—the risk of replacing the built in logic with an external engine without introducing functional regression is high (read as: it would be expensive);
  2. Unless the workflow engine spans several systems, it would not have the full benefit (see more on this below).
  • The workflow examples cited often started with the arrival of the image objects from the modality (initial event that starts the workflow channel). Ideally, the workflow engine extends to before the order is placed, managing the order placement, decision support to ensure the right procedure is ordered, scheduling, protocoloing, and acquisition, along with the reading and post-processing steps. It should also span to the results distribution and archiving, managing the timing and destinations of the report and the lifecycle of the historic imaging data.
  • One of the limitations of using a parallel image management pipeline (e.g. sending images through a system before arriving in PACS) in order to detect the event that triggers the workflow can introduce some points of failure. Consider if the system integrated with the workflow engine goes down and images don’t get to the PACS—this outage would limit the value of the integrated image management and workflow engine system. A possible solution is to extend PACS and other systems, such as the RIS, EMR, CDS, VNA, Enterprise Viewer, document management system, etc. to expose the event information. This would allow the workflow engine to apply the desired workflow rules and orchestrate the data flow and work steps without being a potential bottleneck.

More thoughts from SIIM later. Stay tuned.

Article – Readers Write: 256 Shades of Grey(scale): The Dirty Little Secrets of Radiology and PACS

Contrary to what the title suggests, this article debates whether radiology has succeeded in solving the problem of going digital (by using PACS).

I believe that PACS solved the initial problem that it was intended to solve: get rid of film. Whether it provided more value than that had a lot to do with the design of the PACS, and who was managing it.

But, the value of PACS has a lot more to do with how it is deployed, configured and managed. If a PACS owner fails to use informatics and operational best practices, they and their users will suffer. If they fail to invest in and manage the infrastructure—such as the networks, servers, and storage—they will suffer.

I have seen too many PACS operators with too heavy of a dependence on their PACS vendor. Radiology and IT too often lack staff that understand informatics, integration best practices (e.g. as defined by IHE), or how their system operates. I have seen two hospitals with the same software application doing very similar exam volumes, and one experienced high levels of user satisfaction and operational excellence, while the other had chronic issues.

I would argue that in today’s mature PACS market, it is not what you buy, but how you use it. Provider staff need skills and knowledge about best practices. They need to know more about PACS in general, and be less constrained to knowing only what their PACS vendor tells them. And one of the best places to develop these skills and broad knowledge is SIIM.

I’ll be at the SIIM meeting—stop and say ‘hi’ if you see me.

Article – The 8 RIS innovations you need now

Here is a summary (note: may need to register with site to access) of some RIS (Radiology Information System) innovations that providers should be looking for.

Sneak peek…

  1. Digital dashboards
  2. Electronic medical record aggregation
  3. Clinical decision support
  4. Critical results reporting
  5. Customer service
  6. Technologist feedback
  7. Peer review
  8. Data mining, surveillance, and outcomes

I am working on an article on how (and why) RIS and PACS will be deconstructed and will not exist (as we know them today) in the future. Stay tuned for that.

Article – Patient Steerage Could Harm Radiologists, Confuse Patients

This article explores the trend of “patient steerage”—a practice of payers directing patients to lower-cost imaging providers.

Some thoughts…

  • The article also touches on the idea of patients with high-deductible insurance plans, and awareness of costs, steering themselves to lower cost options. How long until consumer-driven review web sites rating costs and quality (like a travel review and booking site) become ubiquitous? The site could even broker the scheduling across involved facilities, like a travel site does this for airlines.
  • The frequent mention of quality of service as a method for imaging providers to differentiate themselves ties into the blog post I did on the SIIM web site here. The ability to offer services at a lower cost ties into my commentary on Productivity.
  • This trend could have another implication on the management of results. Often, referring physicians will refer to an imaging provider that not only provides quality of service (summarized in the article as “scan quality, turnaround time, communication with referrers and patients”), but convenient results access. So, I might send my patients to Imaging Provider A because they provide me with a secure portal to access the report and images, and send me notifications when the results are available. If my patients are steered to an imaging provider with lesser capability (just faxes reports out), I would not be as productive (or happy). If patients are steered to several imaging providers in the area, how results are accessed may vary significantly from one exam to the next. Referring physicians in regions that have an operational HIE, capable of managing both reports and images, and providing a so called “EMR Light” portal function will likely experience less of a negative impact from patient steerage when accessing results.

Article – Enterprise Imaging: Beyond Cloud-based Image Sharing

Read this, seriously.

Some thoughts…

  • I agree with most of what the article covers. I believe that Radiologists will be more consultant than owner of the Enterprise Imaging (EI) platform.
  • One topic that is not covered is the informatics around the metadata to collect at the time of capture. DICOM and IHE provide guidance as to what metadata we want to capture and include when doing a CT exam, but what needs to be captured when a clinical images are captured and stored is far less defined (though this will evolve as EI is adopted). Hopefully, we can start defining this by using some standard lexicons and codes (like SNOMED CT), as these are more mature now than when we started defining metadata values for traditional radiology modalities.
  • There needs to be close attention paid to the indexing of metadata in the EMR and the EI platform; more than is traditionally done when doing a basic EMR and PACS viewer integration. If an HIE is in place or planned, this also needs to be considered. Not all systems will be capable of managing all the desired metadata (including unique identifiers).
  • The EI platform should be considered a component of the EMR and managed as such–don’t put EI in your radiology PACS; just don’t.
  • We need to develop EI professionals through education and shared experiences, if we want to succeed. I may be biased, but I believe that SIIM is one of the organizations well-positioned to provide this. Check out my two-part blog post (part 1, part 2) on the SIIM web site.