PACS administrator certification efforts heat up

The job title "PACS administrator" represents many levels of knowledge, professional skills, and experience. In response, efforts toward a certification program for PACS administrators continue to gather momentum.

At its 2006 annual meeting, the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM, formerly SCAR) announced sponsorship of a certification initiative to enable PACS administrators and related imaging informatics professionals to become certified imaging informatics professionals (CIIP). SIIM becomes the second nonprofit organization to provide a certification program for PACS administrators, joining the PACS Administrators Registry and Certification Association (PARCA), which established a program in February 2005.

SIIM considers certification a priority for this emerging class of healthcare IT professionals, offering a means for employers to better gauge the experience and qualifications of applicants for PACS-related positions. The goal of certification is to quantify the standard skill set and knowledge base required for an imaging informatics professional, according to SIIM.

"The certification program will assess professional competency and is likely to elevate the credibility and professionalism of the certified individuals," SIIM executive director Anna Marie Mason said. "By playing a major role in developing, promulgating, and monitoring standards, SIIM hopes to define and elevate the quality of services delivered by certified PACS administrators."

The exam is currently under development by a committee of eight PACS innovators who have pioneered PACS technology development and four experienced PACS administrators affiliated with community hospitals. Input to this committee is welcome at, specifically with respect to eligibility requirements and weighting of the test content outline, according to SIIM.

Program design and development will be based on the "gold standards" of the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), according to the society. The CIIP examination is being developed using the procedures and standards recommended by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), and the CIIP examination program will be submitted for accreditation to the NCCA.

SIIM expects test content outline development and validation to be completed by the end of 2006. Item review, revision, and test assembly is scheduled for the first quarter of 2007, with a field test scheduled for spring 2007. Starting in September, exams will initially be scheduled twice yearly at multiple locations in the U.S.

Inconsistent training

Since its inception with the introduction of the first PACS networks, training to become a qualified PACS administrator has been unstructured and inconsistent in content, quality, and duration. As PACS have been deployed in hospitals and imaging centers, vendors bore the responsibility to provide necessary training for individuals selected to operate them. Traditionally, PACS administration positions have been filled by individuals with knowledge of radiology department operations and an interest in computers and IT, or IT professionals willing to learn about radiology department operations.

The increasingly technical nature of PACS, the complex range of work and responsibilities associated with it, the evolution of other "ology" PACS, and the expansion of DICOM image management systems into enterprise and RHIO environments, however, has produced PACS administrators with widely varying capabilities, responsibilities, and experiences.

"Certification provides a credential that reinforces the qualifications of an individual," said Anthony Seibert, Ph.D., CIIP certification chairman and a professor of medical physics at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Davis. It may also be used as a factor in salary negotiation.

Seibert also pointed out that a well-designed, comprehensive test provides an invaluable aid to someone wanting to become a PACS administrator, defining what needs to be learned.

Additionally, certification lends credence to educational curricula built on a single certification test content outline, whether developed for degree-oriented programs or educational/training courses.

Eligibility requirements and registration procedures have not yet been finalized for the CIIP program. These will be weighted to balance experience with formal training and to accommodate candidates with both RT and IT backgrounds, said Scott Griffin, a committee member and a PACS administrator at Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan, AL.

The SIIM's certification committee is charged with developing a credible test based on job task analysis. Subsequent courses for PACS administrators and related informatics professionals will be the responsibility of SIIM's education committees.

A "firewall" has been placed between the members of each committee to avoid any possible perception of a conflict of interest between the society's education initiatives and the certification program, Griffith said. He noted that SIIM is meeting the highest standards recommended by the NCCA so that the credential of CIIP will be accepted as readily as the credentials of RT, for example.

Griffin said that existing commercial training programs, such as those offered by SG&A Consulting in Arlington, TX, and OTech in Aubrey, TX, are providing valuable training to would-be and on-the-job PACS administrators.

"They fill a void that often exists in vendor training programs to operate a vendor-specific PACS," Griffin said. "Some vendors do a better job than others, and some healthcare institutions pay for more training than others."

Len Avecilla, director of continuing education at the SG&A School of PACS Administration, said that the SIIM certification program will support attendance at its educational programs.

"We have already begun to align certain content segments with the published direction of the SIIM Certification Committee," Avecilla said. "In fact, we may be ahead of the curve, but as educators we are anxious to cooperate."

OTech president Herman Oosterwijk said his company's courses and publications have filled many voids.

"I have not heard a single person say that vendor training is sufficient because the emphasis is to support an individual system," he said. "This is fine. But what good is it to know how to interpret an individual error log file, without knowing what the error log entry really means, or knowing that there may be generic tools to troubleshoot more effectively?"

Oosterwijk is also one of the founders of the PACS Administrators Registry and Certification Association (PARCA), which has a current enrollment of 460 members and has experienced 30% growth since February. Of these, only 60 individuals have passed the first of four certification levels. As yet, the test for the highest level of certified PACS systems manager has not yet been conducted, and will require onsite testing, according to PARCA.

"These tests are difficult," said Don Jollota, R.N., director of clinical information systems at Harris Methodist Hospital of Fort Worth, TX, and a PARCA advisory board member. "They represent content mastery over an ordained body of knowledge. You've got to have both knowledge and hands-on experience to pass them."

PARCA executive secretary Suzanne Hunter said that although SIIM's CIIP certification program may overlap the certification program of PARCA, it validates the notion that certification is needed and what PARCA is doing is correct. (The content matter for each of PARCA's certification tests is specified in detail at Once the CIIP content matter is listed, PACS administrators can make their own decisions, she said.

By Cynthia Keen contributing writer
June 20, 2006

Related Reading

Digital dashboard aids radiology workflow, April 28, 2006

Part IX: Exploring PACS Secrets -- How to Fix DICOM, April 20, 2006

Defining PACS policies and procedures, April 19, 2006

Part VIII: Exploring PACS Secrets: It's broke -- Fix it, April 6, 2006

PACS administrator role requires planning, vigilance, March 11, 2005

Copyright © 2006

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