Study: Technology frees clinicians from static imaging workstations

University researchers say they have found a way to make complex medical imaging visualizations easily accessible to clinicians' portable devices using only a standard web browser with no added client-side software.

"Whereas local hardware and software deployments may provide better interactivity than remote applications, our implementation demonstrates that a simplified, stable, client approach using standard web browsers is sufficient for high quality three-dimensional, stereoscopic, collaborative and interactive visualization," researchers from NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill., reported in a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

The NorthShore technology takes the type of images that generally have been available only at imaging work stations in hospital radiology systems, often through a picture archiving and communication system, and streams the applications to remote users through almost any web browser. Those users can be anywhere in the hospital or in another location entirely, such as a consulting surgeon in her own practice.

The images are streamed using MJPEG, which is supported by most web browsers and pushes a series of single images consecutively from the server to create a 3-D image, according to the article. Using a system called CoWebViz, developed several years ago by NorthShore's research institute, researchers found they could conserve bandwidth by sending only the images in the series that have been modified using non-inter-frame compression.

"CoWebViz's user experience is optimized, without the need for interface controls, by automatically maintaining the best image quality and frame rate for the available network bandwidth at each location, and seamlessly shared control among collaborators," the researchers write. The approach "can be seamlessly integrated into existing web applications and could therefore coexist with current web-based hospital information systems. The approach also enhances usability for the end-user because there are no prerequisite skills or software installations required."

The visualizations can be accessed on all major operating systems, from Linux and Unix to Windows and iOS, and processor architectures including mobile devices, the researchers say.

The imaging world appears poised for major changes, with researchers also looking at ways to transfer images more easily through regional PACS combining a virtual private network with CDs to reduce the rate of repeat CT scans.

Or PACS themselves could be on the way out to make way for vendor-neutral archiving, one industry executive recently predicted. Vendors own the data with PACS, making data-sharing and adding applications challenging, Chris Tomlinson, administrative director of radiology at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia said. VPNs, he said, can more easily handle larger image file sizes and integration of images from departments other than radiology.

To learn more:
- read the study

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