Medical Imaging in a Digital World

Medical Imaging in a Digital World

Prahlad G Menon, PhD

The electronic delivery of digital goods and services is omnipresent in today’s world where rampant wireless device proliferation and seemingly infinite cloud storage has pushed the boundaries of space as well as our imaginations ad infinitum. Be it photographs and documents hoarded via cloud services on our iPhones which justify never deleting another file, or medical images and health records of millions of patients generated and stored digitally by hospital systems worldwide, the ‘big data’ trend has touched each of our lives. The desperate need to collect large amounts of data has infected our world – but in some industries more than others… Information technology (IT) and the effective use of the same has been an important cornerstone of the megatrends observable in the healthcare industry today and the efficient management of vast amounts of rapidly generated data is shouldered upon the support of efficient and highly scalable IT infrastructures.

Gone are the days of inherently inefficient and unsustainable print radiology systems where images were prepared slowly and more often than not with substandard image quality. Digital data storage and retrieval has eliminated several steps in an otherwise convoluted print pipeline, paving the way for real-time reporting, on-the-fly quantitative analyses and minimal paper-pushing. In fact, an average hospital is expected to produce 665 Terabytes of medical data by 2015!

So, it is fair to say that radiology practices maintaining electronic patient records through digital radiology information systems and vast amounts of imaging data through picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) are continuously faced with the conundrum of managing big data. But this big data is doing a whole lot for the modern healthcare delivery model wherein electronic data access has for the first time presented the opportunity for patients to both understand the state of their health and participate in the care-giving process. Full digitization of the healthcare enterprise, including but not limited to electronic health records and digitization of medical imaging for radiology practices, has brought patient-care and patient-needs to the forefront of the care delivery mission.

The manifestation of digitization and IT on specifically radiology image management has helped lower costs of healthcare practices the world over, while increasing efficiency and quality of reporting, therefore improving the overall sustainability and quality-of-care offered by modern radiology practices. Image digitization has simultaneously paved the way to quantitative structural and functional visualization of diseased tissue and organs which has in-turn begun to have implications that transcend merely diagnostic value and is entering the realm of surgical planning as well as guidance. Such quantification of medical images has further led into the concept of computer aided diagnostics (CAD), wherein a physician receives a diagnosis or ‘result’ from a computer algorithm suggesting solutions to complex and seemingly subjective questions such as screening for breast cancer on mammograms or even early detection of heart disease!

In summary, digitization and electronic delivery of healthcare data has not only augmented our ability to manage medical images but has paved the way to potentially improve the cognitive capabilities of clinical experts for the accurate diagnosis and effective management of disease or even surgical strategy. In future, medical imaging is likely to result in several far-reaching and impactful technical breakthroughs in fields ranging from neuronal signal processing and deciphering the relationship between brain structure and function, to forecasting the rupture risk of vascular aneurysms. So, stay tuned!

Author: Prahlad G Menon, PhD
Dowd-ICES Fellow
MS,MechE. Ph.D,BME.