Wednesday, October 25, 2006

MRI Exams Performed Remotely Over the Internet

jk(HealthDay News) -- Radiologists are reporting a successful test of computer software that allows magnetic resonance imaging in one hospital to be controlled over the Internet by a distant expert.
"Some patients require specialized scans that not all technologists are familiar with, so we set up a software program that enables us to run the MRI machine from a remote location," said study lead author Dr. J. Paul Finn, chief of diagnostic cardiovascular imaging at the University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine.
That test had Finn sitting in his office and controlling an MRI machine that scanned 30 patients a half-mile away at the UCLA Medical Center, while 30 other age-matched people were scanned by a technologist in the hospital. Other radiologists who evaluated the images rated 90 percent of the remote scans as excellent, a mark achieved by only 60 percent of the onsite scans, he said.
UCLA has an agreement with Siemens Medical Solutions to market the technology, but it won't be available for some time, Finn said. Siemens has approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use the software within one medical center, but it has not yet applied for permission to use it over the Internet, Finn said.
"We're still working on certain aspects of the technology," he added.
When the technology is perfected, Finn sees it being used by smaller hospitals that might not have an MRI technologist familiar with a highly specialized scan of the heart or blood vessels. It could also be used to train technologists to perform such scans, he said.
But Dr. Emanuel Kanal, director of MR services at the University of Pittsburgh, and a spokesman for the Radiological Society of North America, said he saw a number of problems in putting the system to everyday medical use.
One issue is the ego of MRI operators, who insist on being called "technologists" rather than technicians, Kanal said. Some might object to having their machine controlled from a distance, he said.
That's a possible problem, Finn said, but a manageable one. "You need to be sensitive to the local situation," he said. Technologists might welcome the system's ability to give training in specialized scans, he added.
There's also a question of who evaluates the scan, Kanal said. "If the site is not expert in performing a scan, it is not likely to have expertise in interpreting the scan," he said.
Money is another issue, Kanal said. If a scan is done at one facility but is controlled by another facility, who gets paid?
There's no answer yet to that question, Finn said. "Funding is completely up in the air right now," he said. "Potentially, some arrangement could be made. If it will be associated with value, people will pay what they think it is worth."
The technology is open to wider uses, Finn said, such as controlling computerized tomography at a distance, in an emergency situation or even on a battlefield.
Kanal said, "I do like the idea of being able to control remotely. For training purposes, it may have some value. For clinical use, I'm not sure this would be a popular means of execution."
The study findings are published in the November issue of the journal Radiology.
More information
A full explanation of MRI is offered by the National Library of Medicine.

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