Viewing a brain scan? There’s an app for that

Thanks to the work of a group of Calgary researchers, a Health Canada-approved technology called Resolution MD Mobile will now allow physicians to look at medical scans on an iPhone, saving time in making a diagnosis.

“It’s the first smartphone radiology viewing application in the world to be certified for clinical use,” said Ross Mitchell, a professor in the department of radiology and clinical neurosciences at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine. Mitchell developed the application with his students and engineers from Calgary Scientific Inc. (CSI).

Clinical trials that diagnose patients remotely at the Mayo Clinic illustrate how this technology can be used in a hospital setting.
A server was hooked up in Yuma, Ariz., about 265 kilometres away from Phoenix. Stroke victims could get a CT scan at the local hospital in Yuma, but the hospital didn’t have a dedicated cardiac specialist. Through Resolution MD’s technology, doctors at the Mayo Clinic were able to collaborate with local doctors on diagnosing and treating stroke patients.

“This server allowed doctors from Phoenix and Scottsdale to read the stroke scans immediately so they can help diagnose and instruct the local physicians how to treat the stroke, saving a bunch of time and saving a bunch of lives that way,” said Mitchell.

This technology doesn’t only render image scans, these images can also be manipulated to create a three-dimensional image on the iPhone using the application’s unique capabilities.

“When somebody’s scanned in an imaging scanner, like MRI, CT or PET or ultrasound, typically what’s produced is a stack of two-dimensional images. On the computer, you can stack those up into a three-dimensional volume and simulate the physics of light interacting with that surface to create a photo-realistic image,” explained Mitchell. “Sort of like if the doctor has cut into that patient.”

With the phone acting as a terminal, the application works by accessing the CSI server through a secure and encrypted high-speed Internet connection. Images load in 10 or 20 seconds and all of the data is housed on a secure server. The technology works both on iPhone and Android phones.

“There’s no patient data left on the iPhone. When you close the app, the connection to the server is shut down and you’re good to go. If you lose your iPhone a minute later, no problem. You would access the server using the same secure Internet connection you’d use for banking online, so it’s a very secure connection.”

Tests on stroke diagnosis were done to compare the quality of diagnosis between a traditional medical workstation and those done from an iPhone. Mitchell’s team focused on stroke diagnosis because it’s considered a difficult diagnostic task. “It turns out you’re just as good diagnosing on an iPhone than you are diagnosing on a big medical grade diagnostic station,” he said.

“With Apple’s new Retina Display . . . it’s going to make this diagnostic task even better. There’s a version available for the iPad as well and it takes advantage of the full iPad resolution and the big screen.” Testing on iPhone 4 is yet to be done.

“After doctors have had it in their hands . . . they’ll wonder how they ever lived without it.”

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