Q&A: Cheryl Carey takes the helm at SIIM

As the sheer volume of medical imaging data across U.S. healthcare continues to soar and as burgeoning technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and enterprise imaging continue to gain traction, imaging informatics professionals working in healthcare find themselves challenged to keep up. For this reason, many repeat attendees of the annual meetings of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM) are likely to find SIIM 2018 among the most consequential in memory. Cheryl K. Carey, MBA, the organization’s new executive director who began last November, took questions from RBJ in the run-up to the event. 

Radiology Business Journal: We hear a lot about aging infrastructure holding hospitals back from realizing the true potential of imaging informatics. From what you’ve seen, how common is this problem?

Cheryl K. Carey, MBA: Legacy infrastructure is a huge issue in healthcare, and there are likely many reasons for that. One is that margins are thin for hospitals, so institutions can’t afford to replace that clinical system every three to five years or what would be optimal for equipment. That means the clinical application is running on an out-of-date operating system and hardware platforms. That impacts the cybersecurity component as well.

Your field is changing rapidly along with the entirety of healthcare. The development of AI and enterprise imaging are prime examples. Right now appears to be a great time to enter the field of imaging informatics. Is that something you’ve seen in terms of overall staffing? Is it more of a seller’s market, favoring new informaticists with plentiful opportunities? Or is it a buyer's market, giving providers room to be picky about candidates?

It is an emerging field, which includes the entire area of data science if you’re looking at the larger picture. Data scientists are in high demand because there is a lower supply of them at this point. And when it comes to the clinical and informatics skills combined, they are even more rare.

Recently, our board approved expanding our complimentary membership, which in the past was for residents and fellows but is now available to all full-time students. We want to get to medical students from day one and help them understand the informatics space so they can be on that dual track from the start. 

SIIM 2018’s theme is impacting the future of healthcare through essential collaboration. Do you have any tips for attendees to look out for at the conference in general relating to its theme?

SIIM has four member types, which makes us a little different from other societies. They are clinicians, IT professionals, researchers and vendors. Having that diverse membership come together at our annual meeting provides collaboration, which differentiates us from other societies that may have a more homogeneous membership.

We like to say SIIM is at the intersection of healthcare and technology. In coming to the annual meeting, attendees will be able to see that play out throughout the conference. For example, we have sessions on cardiology and pathology in which we’re trying to look at the imaging informatics component as it affects other clinical domains, such as radiology.

I’ve also experienced how everyone at the conference is willing to stop and have a conversation. The culture is very special in that way. The leaders and board members are always willing to sit down and interact with attendees. 

How have you been adjusting to your role as executive director? And what are the top items on your to-do list moving forward?

I feel so fortunate; the staff has been extraordinary in welcoming me and helping me through the transition. I was involved in my first board meeting recently, which went very well. My experience and background as an association executive has positioned me well for this transition into SIIM. Spending 2.5 years at the Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance (MITA) afforded me exposure to medical imaging from the industry perspective, and now I’m kind of coming downstream in the supply chain to the user perspective.

One of the top items on my list is what I’m calling PI3, which stands for Project Immersion in Imaging Informatics. I wanted to better understand imaging informatics from the user perspective, so this first year I’ll be visiting board members to gain insight into imaging informatics while developing a rapport with board members and immersing myself in our various member work settings.

PI3 kicked off in December when I met with SIIM board chair Paul Nagy, PhD, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Medicine Technology Innovation Center, and I was able to visualize his work setting. That same day, I met with former SIIM board member Eliot Siegel, MD, professor of diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and his team. Then in January, SIIM board member Woojin Kim, MD, and I had a wonderful conversation on innovation and the role of vendors. It’s been great interacting with members in their individual settings. My goal is to see each board member by the end of the year.

I also want to gather more input from our members overall. It’s been a little while since we’ve done any type of surveying on what our members are looking for from SIIM. What keeps them up at night? And how we can better align our programs with their needs?

Finally, given the information I’ve gleaned from my board visits and eventual survey answers, I want to see how we can better align SIIM’s strategy and culture. I was prompted to do this was by the January 2018 issue of Harvard Business Review, which dedicated an entire section to culture and strategy.

You authored a blog post on SIIM’s website in which you wrote, “Navigating the fourth industrial revolution and AI will require adaptability and emotional intelligence in each of us.” What is emotional intelligence? And how does that figure into leading SIIM into the future with AI?

In this age of disruption, the status quo won’t cut it. Emotional intelligence, as explained by Daniel Goleman, an internationally known psychologist and expert on the importance of emotional intelligence, defines this trait as the ability to do two things: one, recognize, understand and manage our own emotions; and two, recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.

Point being, we’re not going to be able to run society the way it has been run in the past or conduct imaging informatics in the same manner we have. [Adjusting] requires change, and change isn’t always readily accepted. As leaders we need to recognize when we need to adapt. Maybe it was a technology we implemented or a legacy program that no longer works in the new technological age.