This article originally appeared on Forbes on March 1, 2019.
Let’s face it: People don’t always obtain the health care they need when they need it. Lack of time, the inconvenience, the cost, and the travel involved often get in the way. To bypass such barriers, mobile radiology services are going to patients. Cloud computing, advances in image processing and other technologies are helping to intervene early after a stroke, screen more women for breast cancer and more.
I knew that health care technology needed to improve after I stood in lines holding a compact disc with medical images that offered clues to my son’s health problems only to find that facilities could not read the disc. Now, I lead a company that offers a cloud-based platform that facilitates mobile radiology and other kinds of healthcare. We’re not the only ones offering such technology to medical providers. Cloud-based imaging platforms can enable health care providers to securely use and share medical images anywhere, anytime. Good riddance, data silos.
The Push To Save Brain Cells
A stroke calls for timely treatment; otherwise, as minutes go by, brain cells die. Yet even patients who call 911 at the first sign or symptom might not receive treatment in the golden first hour after a stroke. To hasten treatment and prevent disability or death, medical centers have rolled out mobile stroke units (MSUs) or specialized ambulances that diagnose and treat suspected stroke patients before they even reach the hospital.
Last year, Indiana University Health (IUH) began sending out its new MSU, the first in the state, to respond to 911 calls indicating a possible stroke. A neurologist, a nurse, a computed tomography (CT) technician, a paramedic and an emergency medical technician ride along.
The unit contains a laboratory for analyzing blood and a CT scanner to create detailed pictures of the brain. The information they provide guides diagnosis, which dictates the next step. The vehicle sends images and other data in real time to physicians at IUH Methodist Hospital, who prepare for the patient’s arrival.
Bringing Early Detection To The Neighborhood
As with stroke, early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer may save lives. However, many women lack access to screening mammograms. That holds particularly true for racial and ethnic minority women, low-income women and those without health insurance — groups that are more likely to die from breast cancer.
Mobile mammography centers, which have been growing in number, are tackling this problem. For instance, in November, Methodist Health Systemin Omaha, Nebraska, debuted a long camper that provides free or low-cost 3D mammograms to uninsured and underinsured women at places like community health centers. It also parks outside companies, enabling employees to undergo screening without taking hours off from work.
Methodist’s radiologists interpret the mammograms using computer-aided detection to help them find abnormalities, supplementing but not replacing their own expert judgment. Reports are then sent to patients and their primary care physicians.
Some mobile mammography centers, like the one unveiled in 2016 by Chesapeake Regional Healthcare in Virginia, use the cloud to quickly share images with radiologists, who then read them and provide patients with results.
The Technology Driving Mobile Radiology
The challenges of offering imaging services multiply when providers go on the road. One exam can spawn hundreds of pictures, yet lives may depend on being able to instantly access, store and retrieve them. On-board professionals must be able to share images and other patient data with their colleagues wherever they are.
Patients also want access to their data. When Toluna Group surveyed 1,136 U.S. consumers of medical imaging services for Ambra Health, over 70% of them said they want online access to all their medical data, including images. However, one in three said they cannot access their medical records online.
To transfer diagnostic images between providers, 57% of consumers said they had received compact discs to do so, a process that often took a day or more. That can make it harder and more time-consuming to seek a second opinion or consult a specialist.
Fortunately, technology has risen to these challenges. Cloud-based image sharing portals can provide a simple way to transfer medical images over the internet.
I believe that the future of mobile radiology relies on an ecosystem of technology. With the growth of 4G wireless technologies and now with 5G, we’re going to see speed and responsiveness only previously seen on hard-wired data connections. These new capabilities will likely make complex, large-file imaging modalities, like tomography, available in a mobile setting. As providers and regulators become more attuned to the power of the devices in their pockets, I believe we’re going to see increased collaboration using smartphones.
Mobile imaging centers that use the latest technologies can not only meet patients where they are, but they can also ride into the future. As journalist Whitney L. Jackson wrote in 2016, “Radiology, historically, has been the medical specialty leading the edge of technological advancement.”