Mobile Devices for Viewing Medical Images: A Review of the Literature

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Background: The use of portable computing devices, in particular smartphones, is growing rapidly in healthcare. Several studies have reported that physicians can use tablet computers and smartphones for viewing medical images, but it is not clear to what extent and under which circumstances this approach is acceptable. Objectives: The purpose of this study was to summarize the current evidence on the use of mobile computing devices (tablet computers, smartphones, and personal digital assistants) in viewing medical images. Methods: We systematically searched PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science for original studies that reported the use of any kind of portable computing devices, including tablet computers, smartphones, and personal digital assistants, for viewing radiologic examinations and other medical images. The keywords included mobile phone, m-health, radiology, tele-radiology, radiography, smartphone PACS, and PACS viewer. The electronic search was limited to papers in the English language and the publication date of 2008 onward. After removing duplicates and screening of 327 unique records at the title/abstract level, the full texts of 137 potentially relevant papers were retrieved and checked against inclusion criteria. Finally, 37 papers were included in this study and reviewed. Results: Both smartphones and tablet computers have been used by radiologists and physicians with other specialties including surgeons, orthopedists, emergency physicians, cardiologists, and neurologists. This usage was more dominant where image viewing played an important role in clinical decision making. A range of modalities of medical imaging from plain radiography, to angiography, computed tomography scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) were reported in the reviewed studies. Although the level of evidence was not high, it was indicated that the size of the smartphone’s screen did not affect the clinical performance. More than half of the studies compared the outcome of images viewing using PACS workstations with smartphones and they concluded that there was no significant difference between them. A number of studies have reported that the use of smartphones was associated with the faster interpretation of medical images. Conclusion: Current literature indicates that smartphones can be used for viewing medical images by clinicians and the outcome is comparable with that of desktop workstations, but further research is needed to confirm these findings.