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Reading X-rays on your mobile phone or tablet computer? No, there’s not likely to be an app for that, no matter how cool the devices get.

Sure, portable ultrasound readers have begun challenging stethoscopes as ubiquitous physicians’ tools for bedside exams. And radiologists may find an occasional use for the handy little portable computing devices that we rely on for everything from paying bills to flinging angry birds.

But “little” is the operative word, according to David Hirschorn, MD, director of radiology informatics at Staten Island University Hospital. For primary diagnosis of digital X-ray images, he said, a radiologist needs a display at least 20 to 24 inches across, measured diagonally. An iPad screen is 9.7 inches. So even the exceptional resolution that the latest mobile devices offer isn’t enough, Dr. Hirschorn said:

I don’t care how many pixels you do or do not cram into my phone, I’m not gonna read a chest X-ray off it.

Dr. Hirschorn was speaking on Monday at the New York Medical Imaging Informatics Symposium, which he helped organize. DOTmed News reported on the event.

The Mobile MIM viewer, an application for viewing medical images on iPads and similar devices, is the only product approved by the Food and Drug Administration for diagnostic readings on portable devices—only for CT, MRI, and nuclear medicine scans, and only when a conventional workstation is not available.

Those imaging modalities can be suitable for reading on small screens because they have the most inherent contrast, Dr. Hirschorn said. “If you’re a radiologist, you understand this. They’re not eye tests.”

On the other hand, he said, smartphones and tablets can be perfect for sharing diagnostic images with referring doctors and patients after the radiologist has done the read. It’s obviously easier to bring an image to doctors or patients than to drag them back to the radiology department.

Never say never, of course. But for the foreseeable future, mobile devices will likely remain a secondary tool—albeit potentially a very useful one.

Related seminar: UCSF Abdominal and Pelvic Imaging: CT/MR/US


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