How radiology information systems can remain relevant

Despite the emergence of picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) and electronic medical records (EMRs), radiology information systems (RIS) still hold relevance in the current medical imaging industry. The role of such data and workflow management systems continues to evolve, according to Kevin McEnery, director of innovation in imaging informatics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

"There's always going to be a workflow system for radiologists to process exams and get the orders," McEnery, who published an article in the American College of Radiology's 2013 IT reference guide on the use of RIS and EMRs, tells FierceMedicalImaging. "But now, the RIS has to play in a sandbox with other tools. The more it can be effective in that sandbox, the more it can evolve and thrive."

In an interview with FierceMedicalImaging, McEnery discusses potential new avenues for RIS functionality, the importance of technologist and nurse feedback on the design of such systems and the impact EMRs are having on RIS growth and deployment.

FierceMedicalImaging: Do you think there will always be a market for standalone RIS systems?

McEnery: It's a complex question because every healthcare organization has to create systems that meet their needs. The idea of a totally standalone RIS is slowly diminishing because it's being consumed by electronic health records at a lot of institutions. Radiologists are asking for more information than just the traditional RIS. They're asking for clinical information, and that's typically not in the purview of a RIS to this point.

The reason is the changing healthcare environment; the movement toward more coordinated care systems and accountable care organizations. I think the RIS is going to evolve around those parameters.

FMI: How will the big boom of big data analytics efforts in healthcare impact RIS going forward?

McEnery: RIS has a lot to offer for big data analytics. Most RIS' have information that is unique to an institution and a fidelity of information that allows them to see business processes as they happen. Institutions then can use that information to improve their own business processes.

The eventual issue will be comparing such data across institutions. There needs to be more work to standardize the tracking steps and the workflow steps to be able to compare two institutions against each other.

FMIHow important do you think technologist feedback is in the design and implementation of RIS systems?

McEnery: I think the technologist having input and inflow of insight into the workflow is crucial for those aspects of the RIS that they interact with. A vendor who only focuses on radiologists when designing their system is probably going to find that they're not going to be as well accepted as somebody who has features and functions for the technologist and nurses, as well as the radiologist.

I think the vendors that have focused on specific features and functions to make the technologists' and nurses' workflow more efficient, in general, are more successful.

FMI: Based on the emergence of EMRs and efforts like Meaningful Use, how else might RIS change in the coming years?

McEnery: I suspect that RIS' will become more involved with storing information on patient radiation dose. Whether RIS vendors will add specific functionality to track radiation dose or if they rely on other systems I think is an open question that the marketplace will decide over time.

Editor's Note: This interview has been condensed for clarity and content.