Portable gadgetry provides image access anywhere

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The “holy grail” of image interpretation could be near for tech savvy radiologists: sitting on a beach with an ultra-portable computing device, able to perform even the most complex type of image review. The current “trend is towards increasingly ubiquitous connected computing devices” in radiology and elsewhere, said Woojin Kim, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, in his presentation, “Pervasive Computing: Workstation Power Anywhere” at SIIM 2007 today at in Providence, R.I.

Though anyone with a PDA (personal digital assistant) thinking they are cool might not know it, that’s really pretty old school these days. “Stand alone PDAs are no longer in fashion” but many of these functions are shifting to PDA/phone combinations, or Smartphones, said Kim.

There are a multitude of models out there, for example Palm OS, Windows-based units, and Blackberry. Kim provided a visual example of how a Blackberry could easily access an image of one of the online repositories for radiology images available online and look at this completely independent of a conventional PC.

Other rising extremely portable computing devices include the drool-worthy (the mere mention of this caused a hush in the crowd) Apple iPhone which will be image enabled; the OQO – a full PC that looks very much like a PDA, but it’s not. It can run any application; Ultra Mobile PC – really a small tablet PC developed by Microsoft, Intel, and Samsung; MicroPCs; and DualCor – PC device as well, but though it’s Windows-based, it turns on instantly rather than having to boot up.

The question for anyone on the market might be, however, “Where do all of these new portable systems fit in?” The technology is shifting and so much depends on what your preference is. For example, SmartPhones are getting more powerful, while MicroPC are getting smaller. You have to consider which is right for you as both types of technology continue to evolve. Some of these tiny PCs still don’t fit in your pocket which could be a drawback, while the beefed-up SmartPhone could.

Though not nearly as portable as some of the previously mentioned technologies, tablet PCs are still very much at play in the technology buying decisions of roving radiologists. These computers come in different configurations and operating systems. Some have conventional keyboards, some don’t.

One really interesting and useful feature, Kim said, is digital ink that allows you to write or draw on your tablet as “sort of a hybrid between graphic and texts.” The technology has the ability to recognize what is being written, and it has the ability to store it. This lets you do pretty dynamic tasks such as searching using your own handwriting, converting your handwritten notes to text, and easily cutting and pasting images that you’ve simply circled with a special pen.

Also, tablets offer certain functionality not available on regular PCs. Kim believes that tablet PCs likely have the most possible application in radiology because of the quality of the display, compatibility with other computers, their mobility, and versatility of functions.

Moreover, complex 3D applications can even be done on tablets. This is possible due to advances in thin client technology and use of server-side rendering. All the processing and rendering is done on the server side, and does not bog down the mobile device. You simply command it from the PC. Kim warned, however, that to do this you must have a powerful network and server, and a high-speed wireless network.

Taking a glimpse at the future, Kim showed a developing technology that will likely be big players in radiology in the future: a foldable display that you can stick in your pocket.