iPods Store Medical Images

Radiologists are turning to iPods to deal with the hassles of managing medical images. They're not listening to music, though; they're looking at pictures, with the help of open-source software.

Radiologists are turning to iPods to deal with the hassles of managing medical images. Theyre not listening to music, though; theyre looking at pictures.

Medical images are increasingly important in diagnosing everything from cancer to heart disease to sports injuries. And they are used extensively for research, including brain function and experimental treatments, but they also require large data sets, making storing and transferring images problematic.

Two radiologists recently developed open-source software, called OsiriX, to display and manipulate complex medical images on the popular portable devices called iPods. The most current version of OsiriX, which speeds up some processes and fixes crash-causing bugs, was released on Tuesday.

In a bulletin of the Radiologic Society of North America, co-developer Osman Ratib, vice chairman of radiologic services at UCLA, estimated that 3,000 to 5,000 people worldwide are using the software, which essentially converts the iPod into a sort of plug-and-play portable storage device for images.

Ratib said the motivation for OsiriX came from problems storing images at work. "I never have enough space on my disk, no matter how big my disk is—I always need more space," he said. "One day I realized, I have an iPod that has 40GB of storage on it. Its twice as big as my disk on my laptop, and Im using only 10 percent of it for my music. So why dont I use it as a hard disk for storing medical images?"

With OsiriX, medical image files can be sorted and managed much the same way as sound files. The software also allows radiologists to upload files to the Internet and supports instant messaging and e-mail attachments.

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The software processes most images produced by medical equipment (MRI, CT, PET, PET-CT) as well as confocal microscopy and can read file formats including TIFF, JPEG, PDF, AVI, MPEG and Quicktime. It processes and reads images according to DICOM, a set of standards in medical informatics that deals with digital images.

Users can access files directly on the iPod, or transfer images from computer to computer, though only with Macintoshes.

Milton Silva-Craig, president and chief operating officer for Emageon Inc., which develops clinical analysis and medical image management software, told eWEEK.com that other image management companies are also working on ways to enable their applications to run on portable devices, including Tablet PCs and PDAs.

However, he said, portable devices still have a long way to go, both in terms of sophistication and resolution, before being used to make diagnoses. "Many of the devices, although they are quickly increasing in performance and capacity, were simply not designed for management of large data sets. The second issue would be resolution. For a quick snapshot, the resolution may be adequate."

A survey of 2,000 OsiriX users showed that they had found other ways to use the software, particularly for research and communication. Among the respondents to the survey, about half were at university hospitals; just over a quarter were radiologists. Forty-one percent of the survey respondents said they use OsiriX daily, while 46 percent use it weekly. The most frequent use was for research (53 percent), followed by presentations (37 percent).

OsiriX can be downloaded from its home page.

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