July 2010

By Jim Knaub
Radiology Today
Vol. 11 No. 7 P. 4

The borough’s building inspector said I needed three light bulb safety cages to cover exposed fixtures in my basement if I wanted a certificate of occupancy for the buyer of my house. (I very much did.) My local Lowe’s and Home Depot stores no longer carry them, so I went online and found them on the manufacturer’s website. Then I surfed to Amazon.com to actually buy them because I thought I may be able to get them cheaper and sooner.

I went online, found the item, confirmed it was in stock, ordered three, selected the shipping I needed, and paid for it with my bank card. Three days later, the box was waiting on my doorstep after work, with its printed Amazon.com smirky smile welcoming me home. I installed them the following Sunday and didn’t have another thought about the matter again until Paul Chang, MD, FSIIM, used Amazon.com as an example of interoperability at the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM) annual meeting last month.

While I just used the Internet Explorer 7 browser, Amazon.com computer systems provided me with the specifications of the light bulb cages, checked with the manufacturer or distributor to confirm inventory availability, ordered three bulb cages, captured my shipping information and calculated shipping charges, verified and securely billed my card, sent me an order confirmation, put the transaction in motion, and kept me informed via e-mail when the package shipped. Working through only a browser, I interfaced with shipping, inventory, retail, and banking systems in about 10 minutes. That’s a pretty high level of interoperability supporting a $36 transaction (including shipping).

What does this have to do with SIIM 2010? It points out one of the meeting’s important messages: Health IT is roughly a decade behind other industries’ use of IT systems, and it must call on IT experts outside of healthcare to help it catch up. Leveraging computer capabilities to run healthcare more efficiently is among the best opportunities—and perhaps the only politically palatable one—to squeeze some real savings out of healthcare.

The story also makes me ask how it can be so hard to transfer digital images from one PACS provider’s system to another.

Enjoy the issue.