Anything iPod can do, can iPad do better?

There seems no end to the bashing. But from radiology’s perspective, Apple’s soon-to-be-released iPad could be huge, potentially serving as the first truly mobile device to support medical visualization.

There seems no end to the bashing. But from radiology’s perspective, Apple’s soon-to-be-released iPad could be huge, potentially serving as the first truly mobile device to support medical visualization.

The concept was there with the iPod Touch: a lightweight, easy-to-use device that added video to the iPod’s audio. The iPad brings this to the big screen with computing power that could be extended to support not only windowing and leveling, but some advanced processing as well.

Some will say that the iPad is just another form of the often-tried, often-failed tablet PC. But I see it for what the tablet PC is not. The iPad could be to PC computing what SonoSite’s hand-carried point-of-care scanners are to ultrasound: lightweight, simple, low-cost, and optimized products for select functions.

Weighing in at 1.5 pounds with a battery life of 10 hours (I’d be surprised if it goes that long, but even a conservative five hours is double what I get from my laptop), iPad will be no trouble to move from place to place, as among exam rooms or throughout a hospital ward, or to just hand to a patient. What patients and docs see might be patient data and images pulled off a secure web browser. There could be productivity apps, maybe even decision support programs running off an EMR system or a RIS/PACS.

Radiologists aren’t going to make primary interpretations off the iPad, at least not while the diagnostic process remains as it is. They work in reading rooms at two- or three-panel workstations with speech recognition programs. But iPads will be useful for quick reviews and to provide references for giving advice when radiologists are away from the reading room. PACS and telerad programs compatible with iPhones are already popping up for the iPad.

The day could come when radiology practices buy iPads by the dozens or even hundreds. Some will be for their own professional use, but more will be for their referring physicians and consulting specialists. For referring physicians, the iPad offers immediate access to radiology reports and images and could be an appreciated link between radiologists and the sources of their revenue.

The iPad will have done a great service if it does nothing more than get rid of the DVDs and CDs of patient images that can be neither read nor displayed on referring docs’ desktops because the viewers are incompatible.

At the very least, iPad is the beginning of a new era of mobile devices with screens large enough to make sense of complex medical images. Advances in processing power could turn future generations of iPads into critical cogs in the diagnostic process with visualization and reporting capabilities comparable to those found on desktop workstations.

Then it may come down to the imagination of users and their interest in adapting the diagnostic process to determine whether radiologists remain in a centralized reading room or not.