PDAs promise to accelerate radiology report generation

March 20, 2002

Canadian pilot project hints at advantagesPersonal digital assistants could give radiologists an enormous edge in the race against time. How to best use them is the question. A pilot project involving Canadian radiologists and the

Canadian pilot project hints at advantages

Personal digital assistants could give radiologists an enormous edge in the race against time. How to best use them is the question. A pilot project involving Canadian radiologists and the makers of these products is looking for the answer.

As part of the Wireless Technology Consortium, Inet International, Palm Canada, NetManage, Telus Mobility, and consulting firm Compuware have given PDAs to physicians in the radiology department at Hamilton Health Science, the largest provider of comprehensive healthcare in Ontario. They are looking at the use of these devices as a means for speeding the completion and transmission of radiology reports.

Traditionally, these reports were dictated, sent out for transcription, then placed in radiologists' mail slots for review and, if needed, correction. Alternatively, the reports could be dictated and corrected on desktop computers. Both processes had the same drawback: lack of flexibility. Radiologists are continually on the move within the Hamilton Health Science network. Consequently, the reports had to wait until the radiologists were at the right place at the right time. Use of a PDA has resolved this. With these handheld devices, reports can be downloaded and corrected on the fly, creating efficiencies and potentially saving money for hospitals that employ administrative staff to get the reports approved.

"The demands on radiologists in today's fast-paced, cash-strapped hospitals are tremendous," said Dr. Brian Yemen, a Hamilton radiologist. "The possibility of transmitting radiology reports means less time and travel for busy doctors. More important, it means faster turnaround and quicker results for patients."

PDAs might not be essential to achieve this effect. Conceivably, reports could be routed through an IT network, which radiologists could access using desktop computers anywhere in any connected facility. But nothing can compare to the convenience of a PDA. And wiring a hospital requires pulling cable or fiber-optic lines through every office.

A wireless system utilizing PDAs promises to achieve the same end at a fraction of the cost. Wireless applications may also prevent disruptions to healthcare delivery that might result from bandwidth bottlenecks or other hardware infrastructure problems.

To help work out the details for use of wireless technologies in healthcare and other industries, the consortium has established a virtual lab. Studies at the lab are examining issues involving the use of firewalls, authentication servers, biometrics, intrusion detection, virus protection, and virtual private networks that will be needed to assure that patient-sensitive data are transmitted securely over the network.