Last week I spent some time at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) meeting, networking, speaking with medical Thought Leaders, scouting new technologies. In particular I enjoyed the posters – it’s an opportunity to see what’s cutting edge in the world of radiology and interventional radiology. (You can check out abstracts for papers, posters, etc. here. I will be blogging in the future on their Radiology Cares pledge drive)
Radiology is an unsung hero in the world of healthcare. Not only are these the people that make diagnoses based upon X-Ray, Ultrasound, MRI, CT and other visualization technologies, they also help heal people – doing certain types of ‘surgeries’ – through minimally invasive techniques that use access holes often much smaller than pencil.
Because these procedures are being done in a minimally invasive manner while viewing the inside of a person’s body on a LED/LCD screen, radiologists of all types find themselves on the cusp of some of the newest imaging and interaction technologies. It’s no surprise then to see iPads, tablets, display screens and controllers of various types being mentioned in presentations, posters, and being exhibited.
If someone were to ask me what technologies I think will impact future healthcare, based upon what I saw at the conference, I’d mention two: Mobile and Interaction Technologies.
Mobile technologies go beyond iPads. They represent a whole new network of interconnectedness – they enable collaboration and eliminate barriers of time and space. What is key in this realm is fidelity: the x-ray/ultrasound/MRI/etc. needs to look the same on a handheld screen in Africa as it does on a 26″ or larger screen in Chicago. While the newer iPads are being used for their high-resolution screens, the general rule is that the smaller the screen/image, the greater the chance of misinterpretation. For the future, any company that creates a lighter, larger, higher resolution screen (folding perhaps?) will be the mobile device of choice.
While Apple may have paved the way for the acceptance of touch sensitive screens (though it is still being used as an interactive e-book platform for educational purposes), the world of medicine is moving beyond the limitations of touch on a 2D surface and diving into the 3D world. In procedural suites a small screen is not only limiting, but a doctor or nurse that needs to maintain sterility can not easily interact with 2D touch surfaces. Even when dealing with 3D data sets (CT/MRI/etc. scans), manipulating the data and being able to look in-depth at areas of interest is much easier and intuitive when using game controllers like Microsoft Kinect, Leap Motion and the like. I recorded a video of one such control system: the teistler imager DIAG system. I played with it and found it extremely simple to use – even in its ‘rough’, prototypical state.
Are these the only technologies that will be impacting the future? Hardly. Technologies enabling us to look more accurately into the body without breaking the skin are growing in leaps and bounds. (In fact, one problem is that certain imaging modalities like MRI can now detect miniscule, suspicious looking lesions. So, what’s the problem? The lesion is so small, it can’t be found by any other imaging method, so it also can’t really be tested in order to make a definitive diagnosis.) In addition, newer techniques are extracting more information from diagnostic images so that, in some cases, a diagnosis can be made without even having to take a biopsy. (There are even newer technologies being developed that enable diagnoses with only a small sample of blood.)
With technologies getting better, the world is getting smaller and the world of ‘ the small and unseen’ is becoming more accessible every day. These are exciting times in the world of healthcare, and coupled with a patient centered approach, Radiology, both on its own and as support for other medical disciplines, will only help people live longer and healthier lives.