A review of the current state of radiology medical apps

Purpose of Review

The purpose of this post is to summarize a recent manuscript that reviewed the current state of radiology smartphone medical apps. Readers should gain knowledge of the types of current radiology smartphone apps. The promise and perils of radiology smartphone apps will be highlighted.

Introduction

The visual foundation of radiology makes the specialty a promising area for smartphone and tablet app development.

M.A. Rodrigues along with colleagues from Edinburgh, Scotland recently surveyed smartphone app stores for apps related to the specialty of radiology.

They categorized 321 apps and provided commentary on the state-of-the art radiology apps in the journal Insights Imaging. In this post, I will outline some of the key findings from their review.

Radiology Smartphone App Categories

Teaching:

Smartphone and tablet apps with a focus on radiology teaching emerged as an early app category. Several current apps are available in this category that are targeted for physicians and other healthcare providers. Radiopaedia is an app designed for radiology residents that includes scrollable case images, questions and links to relevant research manuscripts.

RadTeachingJPEG

Reference:

A variety of radiology reference apps are available that cover topics such as proper positioning for radiographs and proper staging of cancer from radiographic findings. The Royal College of Radiologists developed a multi-platform reference tool called iRefer that provides guidelines for physicians in the selection of the most appropriate imaging tests for specific clinical scenarios.

RadReferenceJPEG2

Viewing Software:

Software systems with smartphone and tablet apps are available that can organize films to be reviewed and to share across devices. Smartphones do not typically meet screen size and resolution requirements for diagnostic purposes. An example of viewing software is the app eFilm Mobile.

RadViewingJPEG

Patient Education:

Patient education can be a key component of successful imaging as patient cooperation is often necessary. Patient education apps may improve the patient’s understanding of their procedure and reduce procedure-related anxiety. The authors noted an example of this type of app is Child MRI Prep. This app prepares children for an MRI using developmentally appropriate education methods.

RadChildJPEG

Hospital Information Systems:

State-of-the art hospital information systems integrate patient records, lab tests and radiology images and results. Several apps have been developed to allow physicians to access records including imaging results for remote access.

Radiology Smartphone App Platforms

The authors tallied the number of apps by category and application platform store. Of the 321 radiology relevant apps, the majority (172) were present in the iTunes store and 108 were available in the Google Play Android app store. 31 apps had both an iOS and Android version. Relatively few radiology smartphone apps were available for Windows or Blackberry platforms.

Promises

  • Improvement in physician and radiology resident education
  • Remote access to radiology reports and images
  • Remote access to radiology reference tools
  • Improvement in patient education for radiology procedures

Perils

  • Many smartphones lack sufficient viewing size and resolution to use radiology images for diagnostic purposes
  • Apps often lack documentation of physician involvement in the developmental process
  • Apps often lack testing for reliability and lack standardized app ranking or certification systems
  • Mobile apps and data storage may increase risk for breach of confidentiality
  • Radiology images are large data files and may take a long time to access remotely
  • “Hidden fees” may be present–an app may be free but require additional fees to access specific files

Conclusion

The promise and perils of smartphone app development in radiology mirror those in other medical domains. Many apps have been developed but the medical reliability and validity of these apps is often unknown. There is a need for real-world research-based testing of apps in radiology. Readers with more interest in this topic can access the free full-text manuscript by selecting the link below.

Citation

Rodrigues MA, Visvanathan A, Murchison JT, Brady RR: Radiology smartphone applications; current provision and cautions. Insights Imaging 2013 Aug 4. [Epub ahead of print]

Link to Free Full-text Manuscript

William R. Yates, M.D. is a research psychiatrist.  His Brain Posts blog reviews recent research advances in neuroscience.  He can be followed on Twitter @WRY999

Author:

Bill Yates
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