DOS 515 - Week 1 Discussion
Initial Post: DICOM and IHE-RO
In my last job working for a vendor of imaging systems for radiation oncology and radiology, I was constantly exposed to the need for seamless communications between various systems such as scanners (CT, MR, PET, SPECT), PACS, fusion and contouring workstation, treatment planning workstations, and record & verify systems. The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) has created an initiative called IHE-RO, which stands for Integrating Healthcare Enterprise - Radiation Oncology.1 The purpose of the working group is to try to streamline the communications between vendors and between different part of the healthcare enterprise who all have different systems, different needs, and different capabilities.
One of the things that I learned early on is that even though DICOM is supposedly a standard, many parts of the specification are optional, and every vendor implements the specification differently. In many cases, the DICOM standard is not implemented correctly, but as long as all of your equipment is from that same vendor, you will not notice the problem. One of the events that IHE-RO organized is an annual event called Connectathon.2 This is a week-long event where every vendor is invited to bring their systems to one place for a marathon of testing interactions between every possible combination of systems. This is quite different from a trade show because no one is trying to sell anything, and the attendees are usually the actual engineers and programmers who create the systems, not marketing or administration people. By putting the engineers together, problems can often be identified and solved on the spot rather than the typical "I'll have my people contact your people" black hole of support issues that never get fixed.
I can say from personal experience that DICOM connectivity issues have gotten MUCH better in the last few years. Vendors are now realizing that they can no longer assume that a site will buy nothing but their products, and they must actually make some attempt at interoperability. The buzzwords you hear at trade shows now revolve around vendor neutrality, interoperability, "IHE-RO Compliant", and other "we play nice with others" types of messages. This is very good for the industry because the process of opening up reveals problems that would have never come to light otherwise.
Sadly, not every vendor participates in Connectathon, but hopefully market pressures will prevail.
- IHE-RO. ASTRO Website. https://www.astro.org/Practice-Management/IHE-RO/Index.aspx. Updated Sept 3, 2014. Accessed October 15, 2014.
- For vendors. ASTRO Website. https://www.astro.org/Practice-Management/IHE-RO/For-Vendors.aspx. Updated Sept 2, 2014. Accessed October 15, 2014.