PDA use in radiology lags behind other medical specialties

May 20, 2004

Although radiology has in many respects led the digital revolution in medicine, it lags behind other medical specialties in the use of personal digital assistants as a medical tool, presenters said at a SCAR session Thursday. Radiology-specific

Although radiology has in many respects led the digital revolution in medicine, it lags behind other medical specialties in the use of personal digital assistants as a medical tool, presenters said at a SCAR session Thursday.

Radiology-specific applications for PDAs make up only a fraction of those available to other specialties, said Dr. Adam E. Flanders, a radiologist at Thomas Jefferson Hospital. The most popular radiology applications are reference texts.

But that situation could change. Surveys show that radiology residents are leading the adoption of PDAs, and it can be anticipated that they will maintain their interest as the technology matures. In addition, factors that have hampered the acceptance of PDAs as a useful tool in medical imaging - mainly memory and screen resolution - are becoming less of a problem as the technology advances, Flanders said.

Screen resolution, now at 160 x 160 pixels in VGA format, is adequate for teaching applications and can be sufficient for some interpretations, he said. Memory in some instances is now up to 4 Gigabytes, according to another presenter.

Flanders gave examples of PDA applications that have been found useful in radiology, particularly in a wireless setting. One system being tested at UCLA uses PDAs to summon images to wall-mounted monitors so the small screen size is not an issue.

In his own department, a program in the PACS sends out PDA-viewable reports on image interpretation workload that can be helpful in planning, Flanders said.

Future refinements could make PDAs even more useful. They can already record voice clips, and in the future they might record dictated reports, Flanders said. A solution to small and relatively low display resolution could involve devices that can project images on a larger surface.

Ultimately, the PDA could become a portable office that gives radiologists access to everything they need, wherever they are - including the beach, Flanders said.

A survey of RSNA members conducted at the University of Pennsylvania seemed to confirm his comments. One-quarter of the respondents (240 of 1658 queried) said they use PDAs in practice, with the most common application being reference texts, said Dr. William Boonn, a radiology resident at Penn. The survey also found that trainees are more likely to use PDAs than radiologists already in practice.

Asked which features they would find most valuable, the respondents listed reviewing and signing off reports, Internet and e-mail access, checking references and images, and checking prior images.