Study confirms iPad's shortcomings for diagnostic radiology

By Neil Versel
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israel ipadNew research from Australia adds to the evidence that the iPad is a handy but still less-than-perfect tool for radiologists.

In a study presented at the recent International Society for Optical Engineering medical imaging conference in San Diego, Dr. Mark McEntee of the University of Sydney found that the iPad and similar touch-screen tablets are just as good as standard LCD monitors for viewing medical images. But both tablets and consumer-grade LCD screens are suitable only as "secondary" displays, only when high-resolution radiology monitors are not available.

"iPads and other secondary screens should not be used for clinical diagnosis," McEntee told Australian publication eHealthspace.org. "There is a range of safety concerns associated with using mobile screens."

McEntee said that high-resolution clinical monitors allow viewers to pick up more "just noticeable differences" in medical images than with iPads or standard LCD screens. He came to this conclusion after having eight U.S. board-certified radiologists attempt to identify intracranial bleeding, fractures and lung nodules from x-rays and other scans.

Primary radiology displays have a resolution of 508 to 750 dots per inch, much greater than the 130 dpi of iPads and desktop monitors, according to the University of Sydney. They also tend to be brighter than consumer-oriented displays.

However, McEntee found no significant difference between the iPad and a standard LCD monitor, making tablets wonderful for freeing physicians from desktop computers when doing inpatient rounds. "In the past, doctors would do their rounds in the wards, returning to a desktop computer to view images. Now they can do it at the bedside with an iPad or other tablet computer," McEntee said in an article published by the school.

"When no primary display device exists, diagnoses can be carried out on a secondary display device, such as an iPad, but this is only in the most urgent of cases, for example to determine whether a patient is suffering from an intracranial bleed," McEntee added.

This is similar to the requirement that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has imposed in clearing several mobile medical image viewing apps for clinical usage, such as offerings from Mobile MIM, GE Healthcare and Calgary Scientific. "This device is not intended to replace full workstations and should be used only when there is no access to a workstation," the FDA stated in a 510(k) clearance notice for Mobile MIM. The FDA specifically excluded mammography from its clearance.