RSNA Trendwatch: Consumer Technology Moving to Health Care

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Anyone familiar with the guts of advanced visualization software knows that high speed graphics processing comes at a price — a price too steep for health care R &D, in most cases. That's why radiologists interpreting 3D reconstructions of CT data are actually using the very same technology that powers bestselling video games like Grand Theft Auto 5. With hit games raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in their first weeks on the market, the gaming industry has the wherewithal to develop technology that health care needs.

Samsung has been hawking its electronics on the consumer side for years, but in 2012 it hit the health care market in a big way, and this year its booth presence at RSNA is large. Observers can watch as the company's new CG80 floor mounted DR system (DR detectors to match are works in progress) performs a sort of ballet, tube head gliding smoothly through the air to the strains of classical music.

Samsung DR roomSamsung DR room demonstrated at RSNA 2013.

It's not an accident that the company's health care products share an industrial design ethos with products like its smart watch and mobile phones. As the patient experience becomes more and more critical to the bottom lines of hospitals and imaging centers, Samsung anticipates growing demand for medical imaging systems that both perform well and look clean, seamless and high-tech.

The patient experience appeared to be very much on the minds of vendors. Clinical improvements have a role to play, especially dose reduction features (when they can be effectively marketed to patients, but that's another article for another time), but health care's customers are also judging organizations based on comfort and aesthetics — hence the introduction of Fujifilm's comfort paddle for its Aspire HD mammography systems, or Hitachi's ongoing commitment to more open and comfortable MR.

In another example of drawing medical technology from the consumer sphere, Sony showcased new LED monitors that take advantage of the same technology that has made its flat screen TVs such a success. And in the German Pavilion, where a consortium of German companies and academic institutions shared space, researchers shared perhaps the most direct utilization of consumer technology in the radiology sphere.

One university has been experimenting with its own advanced visualization software that isn't just powered by gaming graphics — it's actually operated using a standard game controller. With one hand on a joystick, a radiologist can perform all the functions he or she would normally need a mouse for — freeing the other hand for dictation, taking calls, etc.

The XBOX Kinect revolutionized wireless gaming with a small detector that uses infrared to track the location of people in its range. In Germany, a start-up has been experimenting with use of the detector to track motion in the OR or radiology room, enabling automation of certain safety measures.

Thought leaders like Paul Chang have often noted that the user interfaces of radiology software are years behind. Are there other areas that could use a dose of influence from the consumer sphere?