by Cindy Waxer

How Mayo Clinic Doctors Use Smartphones to Diagnose Patients

Oct 27, 2010

Neurologists diagnose patients remotely using images delivered to smartphones

When a middle-aged woman arrived at Yuma Regional Medical Center in Arizona complaining of a headache, nausea and double vision, doctors had little to go on. Within 30 minutes, the patient slipped into a coma, but CT scans of her brain showed no abnormalities. The situation could have resembled a TV episode of House—with doctors making guess after guess, trying to solve the medical mystery—if not for the Mayo Clinic’s stroke telemedicine team, which used a smartphone and imaging software to diagnose the clotted artery in her brain.

“Almost certainly the patient would have died if the diagnosis had not been recognized,” says Bart Demaerschalk, a neurologist and director of the Mayo Clinic’s Stroke Telemedicine for Arizona Rural Residents program. The program uses ResolutionMD Mobile, an imaging application from Calgary Scientific, to connect Mayo Clinic’s neurologists with those at seven remote hospitals, including the one in Yuma, to help diagnose and treat stroke victims.

The ability to electronically deliver and receive medical images has eluded hospitals for years. MRI image files, for example, are huge. And hospitals must contend with security and patient confidentiality concerns when sending scans from one system to another.

Using the Mobile Web

But with ResolutionMD Mobile, doctors can securely access advanced images on a mobile device anytime, anywhere. Using a specially designed app on an iPhone or Android smartphone, a physician simply searches a database of patients’ diagnostic scans that the remote hospitals have uploaded to Calgary Scientific’s PureWeb cloud platform. The selected image is delivered within the app, eliminating the need to load patients’ confidential data directly onto a handheld device that could be lost or stolen.

“One of the huge benefits is that we’re not transferring files to the actual device. We’re simply using it as a viewer,” says Dwight Channer, program manager of stroke telemedicine at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. “Because we’re not downloading any images to the smartphone, they’re still protected and stored behind a firewall.” The Mayo Clinic archives its own patients’ images in its picture archiving and communications system, ensuring compliance with healthcare privacy rules. Another plus: users always know where their data is located. What’s more, if a doctor’s ResolutionMD mobile session is inactive for 30 seconds or longer, it automatically times out and is no longer accessible.

It’s a speedy alternative to delivering brain scans via e-mail—a method that, due to bandwidth restrictions, limits the number of images doctors can review, says Demaerschalk. In fact, thanks to ResolutionMD Mobile’s real-time access to high-quality medical images, he observes, Mayo Clinic neurologists have so far preferred it over other methods for viewing CT scans—such as on a backlit box in a radiology reading room or on a PC—where the image resolution often isn’t as high or the medium is less interactive than a smartphone with touchscreen and zoom capabilities.

Cindy Waxer is a freelance writer based in Canada.