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New iPad Improvements Could Lead to More Radiology Apps


The biggest concern about viewing diagnostic studies on mobile devices has been screen resolution. The new iPad's “retina display” could change that.

The new iPad hit the shelves Friday, and many in radiology are already talking about how its upgraded features could impact how you access study images on-the-go.

To date, the biggest concern about viewing diagnostic studies through medical applications on mobile devices has been screen resolution. Worries about image clarity have prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is charged with approving certain medical apps, to green-light only one app for diagnostic radiology use from MIM Software.

But with a “retina display” of 2047 by 1536 pixels - double that of the iPad2 - the new device offers greater image clarity than most 15-inch laptop computer displays. Ultimately, said Jerimy Brockway, software director for MIM Software, these improvements will make it easier and faster for you to review images.

“The new iPad is going to allow us to get a lot more on the display screen at once when compared to previous models. This is great for high resolution images that are really large, such as X-rays,” he said. “Having more data on the screen at once reduces the need to zoom and pan.”

In a review of the new iPad on iMedicalApps.com, Tom Lewis noted the new display as an element that will appeal to a wide medical community. “The new iPad’s improved graphics capabilities and display resolution will appeal to medical professionals given medical imaging is an integral part of the care pathway.”

The new iPad also offers improved in-plane switching, a feature that preserves high contrast and color values when images are viewed from different angles. In addition, doubled memory - from 512 MB to 1G - will enable you to load more data at one time, potentially comparing exams side-by-side for greater diagnostic accuracy.

It’s likely, Brockway said, that these changes will address much of the discomfort the FDA has had about approving radiology apps.

“I think that with each iterative improvement in mobile devices, the FDA is only going to get more comfortable with the concept,” he said. “These advancements will help them see this is a paradigm that isn’t going to go away. Everyone knows it, and the FDA knows it, as well.”

With the screen resolution improvements, limitations on physicians’ use of mobile devices for diagnostic purposes are now largely policy driven not technology driven, said Rob Shaughnessy, chief technology officer for Circadence, a technology company that provides WAN and network optimization solutions. And the policies will change, he said, especially because if users can load and view and images on a tablet, they will.

“This is the year,” he said, “where we start looking at mobile platforms that have the screen resolution to really change how these mobile devices are used in radiology.”

Despite the excitement over the newest-generation iPad, however, recent research contends tablet technology isn’t advanced enough yet for you to use mobile-based apps for primary reads. According to lead study author Mark McEntee, PhD, a medical radiation lecturer from the University of Sydney in Australia, you should use office-based, calibrated LCD screens that offer higher display resolutions, such as 750 dots per inch (dpi), for viewing X-rays, CT, PET, and MRI scans. Only use iPads in emergency situations, he said.

“When no primary display device exists, diagnoses can be carried out on a secondary display device, such as an iPad,” McEntee said in a university release on the study, published before the latest iPad release. “But this is only in the most urgent of cases, for example, to determine whether a patient is suffering from an intra-cranial bleed.”

- Sara Michael contributed to this report.

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