Underserved areas call for long-distance US reads

September 1, 2005

Physicians in remote or undeveloped communities can improve diagnostic imaging capabilities in their area by simply dialing the phone. If no landline phones are available, physicians can review sonographic images on a cell phone.

Physicians in remote or undeveloped communities can improve diagnostic imaging capabilities in their area by simply dialing the phone. If no landline phones are available, physicians can review sonographic images on a cell phone.

Veljko Popov, a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical School student, and Dr. Robert Harris, director of ultrasound, brought a portable ultrasound unit to the local hospital in Popov's home town of Zrenjanin, near Belgrade. They wanted to help with the backlog of people who needed medical attention. They soon realized that when they returned to the U.S., the ultrasound equipment left in Serbia would languish from disuse because of the lack of qualified personnel.

Harris and Popov let their fingers do the walking. They transmitted 50 thyroid, abdominal, pelvic, and transvaginal ultrasound scans to Dartmouth over ISDN lines at 30 to 60 KBps. They sent compressed and uncompressed images for comparison.

Although the transmission was slow, there was no discernable difference between compressed and uncompressed images in nearly two-thirds of the cases. Seventy percent of compressed files were ranked diagnostically adequate. The researchers presented these findings at the American Roentgen Ray Society meeting in May.

A poster at the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine meeting in June found that mobile phones outfitted with microcameras can broadcast ultrasound images. Dr. Michael Blaivas and colleagues at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta compared high-resolution ultrasound images from thermal printouts with images recorded and transmitted using commercially available cell phone cameras.

They found an acceptable level of agreement for pathology and structure detection between phone and thermal printer images. They also found, however, a statistically significant increase in diagnostic confidence from hard-copy ultrasound images compared with phone images. The researchers concluded that ultrasound-scanning review via cell phone seems feasible and merits further investigation.