RSNA highlights potentially disruptive mobile technology for radiologists

By Neil Versel

Neil_Versel_LargeIs it me, or is radiology outpacing pretty much every other specialty in the mobile arena?

There has been a lot of news about imaging apps this week, mostly because the Radiological Society of North America is holding its annual meeting right now. The massive event, one of the two biggest healthcare meetings in the world, regularly draws 60,000 people or more to Chicago's McCormick Place the week after Thanksgiving—right about the time most sane people would be seeking warmer climes. (Why anyone would want to be anywhere near O'Hare International Airport on the Sunday after Thanksgiving also escapes me—and I live in Chicago.)

Work commitments prevented me from making the 8-mile trek down the lakefront to RSNA, but I still get plenty of the press releases coming out of the conference, which typically fills at least two of the cavernous halls of the largest convention center in the country with displays including mobile MRIs on semitrailers parked right on the exhibit floor. Seriously, you know it's big when you have to consult the map to find Cerner's booth.

But I digress. Even with the oversized vendor fortresses, small, mobile devices have been making their way into radiology for years. As early as 2004, I reported about viewing images on the since-discontinued iPod Photo, the first iPod model that could display digital pictures. Mobile medical image viewing has evolved as Apple technology has progressed, first to video-capable iPods, then to the iPhone and now, of course, to the iPad.

Conveniently just in time for RSNA 2011, GE Healthcare this week announced that its Centricity Radiology Mobile Access 2.0 app for Android and Apple's iOS gained FDA clearance for remote viewing of CT and MRI images.

GE also introduced the FlashPad wireless x-ray detector, and Agfa HealthCare debuted a model dubbed the DX-D 100. (Give GE a point in the branding contest.) Meanwhile, Carestream Health beat both of them by coming out with the second generation of its own wireless detector, Carestream DRX Detector.

A lesser-known vendor, Claron Technology took advantage of the gathering to introduce iPhone and iPad image-viewing apps. A Web version of the company's Nil viewer, which works on Android and BlackBerry devices, too, is just a year old.

Nuance Communications unveiled its PowerScribe | 360 Mobile app for radiologists to read and sign off on imaging reports from their iPhones. If you want a closer look, you can be sure this will be on display at next week's mHealth Summit in National Harbor, Md.

On the scientific side of RSNA—and there are some 3,000 scientific presentations and posters—one paper from Italy found that the iPad 2 could be just as effective, though more time-consuming, than an iMac workstation for reviewing CT colonoscopy exams, reports CMIO. The same publication also reported on a secure, low-cost, private cloud server for mobile image retrieval that a Japanese medical school built.

Imaging quality on mobile devices, particularly tablets, continues to improve. And download speeds keep getting faster, an important consideration when you're talking about big files. That means diagnostic-quality mobile readers soon should be commonplace. I'm not aware of anyone offering a 4G wireless tablet with 1080p resolution yet, but it's coming.

As soon as that happens, diagnostic radiologists may never have to set foot in a hospital again. How disruptive would that be?