Ultrasound images transmitted over phone allow real-time diagnosis of patients in poorer countries

Over-the-phone transmission of diagnostic-quality ultrasound images is possible, potentially paving the way for ultrasound examinations to be performed in poorer areas of the world, inexpensively transmitted via the Internet, and read by experienced radiologists elsewhere, a new study shows. The study was prompted, in part, by a medical student in the U.S. who wanted the chance to help the people in his homeland of Yugoslavia.

Veljko Popov, a medical student at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH, and Robert Harris, MD, associate professor of radiology at Dartmouth, had visited Yugoslavia in early 2004, bringing with them a compact ultrasound unit to be donated at a remote hospital there. "Once they had the equipment, they needed an inexpensive way for the images to be read," said Dr. Harris.

"We conducted a pilot study in which 50 thyroid, abdominal, pelvic and transvaginal images were transmitted from Yugoslavia to the U.S. to determine if real-time, low-cost tele-ultrasound was feasible. Real-time images were compressed to help speed the file transfer. The compressed images were then compared to the original noncompressed images," said Dr. Popov.

Two attending radiologists, one radiology resident and a medical student reviewed both sets of images, and in 64% of the cases, they couldn't tell the compressed from the noncompressed images, said Dr. Harris. "In 67% of the cases, they ranked the compressed images as adequate for diagnostic purposes or better than adequate," he added. "The ultrasound machine used to create the images is a relatively simple machine and, in some of the cases, the resolution problems could have been more of a problem with the original images than the compressed images," said Dr. Harris.

"This pilot study shows that it is possible to inexpensively send adequate images across telephone lines," said Dr. Harris. The next step is to use satellite in an effort to expand bandwidth and speed file t


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