Apple iPods and Macs help Radiologists manage and share medical images

“The iPod is not just for music any more. Radiologists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and their colleagues at other institutions from as far away as Europe and Australia are now using iPod devices to store medical images. ‘This is what we call using off the shelf, consumer market technology,’ says Osman Ratib, M.D., Ph.D., professor and vice-chairman of radiologic services at UCLA. ‘Technology coming from the consumer market is changing the way we do things in the radiology department.’ Dr. Ratib and Antoine Rosset, M.D., a radiologist in Geneva, Switzerland, recently developed OsiriX, Macintosh-based software for display and manipulation of complex medical image data,’ The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) reports.

“‘We chose to do it on the Macintosh because of the high performance of Mac graphics,’ Dr. Ratib says. ‘The purpose is to be able to quickly and interactively manipulate very large data sets in 3D, 4D and even 5D. It’s amazing how much performance we get.’ How did the developers go from a music player to a medical storage device? ‘We basically wanted something that everybody could use,’ explains Dr. Ratib. ‘That’s why OsiriX can be used with the iPod, iChat and other tools,” RSNA reports.

“‘Radiologists deal with a very large amount of medical imaging data,’ Dr. Ratib explains. ‘I never have enough space on my disk, no matter how big my disk is – I always need more space. One day I realized, I have an iPod that has 40 gigabytes of storage on it. It’s twice as big as my disk on my laptop and I’m using only 10 percent of it for my music. So, why don’t I use it as a hard disk for storing medical images?’ Dr. Rosset set up the OsiriX software to automatically recognize and search for medical images on the iPod. When it detects the images, they automatically appear on the list of image data available – similar to the way music files are accessible by the iTune music application,” RSNA reports.

“Dr. Ratib sees the iPod as a kind of giant memory stick, ‘The performance is amazing.’ Once the images are on the iPod, they can be carried from one machine to another, as long as the computer is a Macintosh. ‘You can see the images and display them as you would do with any other file that’s on your hard disk,’ Dr. Ratib says. OsiriX allows users to upload images to the Internet. It also supports iChat instant messaging, which is compatible with AOL instant messaging. This allows the user to take advantage of the video-conferencing capability. But instead of seeing the user’s face on a Webcam, it is modified to show the user’s screen at the other end of the conversation,” RSNA reports.

The software is free, distributed under Open Source Licensing, and has found users around the world. ‘I want everybody to participate,’ Dr. Ratib says. A recent survey of OsiriX users found that it has been very well received. One thousand people downloaded the software within the first month of distribution. Dr. Ratib believes actual usage is about three to five times that number. Among the respondents to the survey, more than one quarter of the OsiriX users were radiologists, half of them at university hospitals. Forty-one percent of the total survey respondents said they use OsiriX daily, while 46 percent use it weekly. The most frequent usage was for research (53 percent), followed by presentations (37 percent), PACS at home (34 percent), PACS at work (29 percent), 3D station (26 percent) and fun (24 percent),” RSNA reports.

OsiriX software can be downloaded at

Full article here.


  1. More lies! Everyone know that MACs are toys. The superior task based Windows operating system is the only choice for this kind of undertaking. In this Mission Critical type of work, it only makes sense to use the superior Plays For Sure assurance in a portable hard drive. There are so many programs available for Windows, I am sure that one of them must be able to share the images. Mustn’t there?

  2. If I had a iPod photo I would put presentations on it saved as jpegs. That would be a nice real world application that I could use. Not worth it for me to replace my 30 gig yet though.

  3. You know… I guess if I’m in surgery, with some …uh, surgeon… up to both elbows inside my chest cavity, I’m comforted just knowing he’s using his iPod for something OTHER than grooving to the latest angry rapper.

  4. Paul Enderle

    If Macs are toys then peecees are boat anchors. But, just maybe, your right….maybe that is why using a Mac is so much enjoyable and fun….I’m at work using the employers peecee…only had IE crash 2 times today…just about noon…so hold on, I am sure the day is still young….the machine only froze once so far..but the reboot fixed the freeze…I can’t remember the last time my Mac has had any problem…ya, peecees are better…only in your mind. I use them both, and have been for a long time. Mr Gates’ OS just plain SUCKS.

  5. At first this sort of sounds like ‘hmm, interesting’ but this is the sort of article we need the ‘main stream’ press to pick up. If nothing else, it shows how a humble Mac can be used as a PAC’s browser using free software (and it’s a heck of a lot simpler and more elegant than GE’s solution, too). The best part of the article is the fact that 43% of people using the software are researchers. This is the area I expect to see big things happening – the high end academic research market. Almost all academic software is open source / unix based (commercial software costs money, graduate students time is cheap!) but all of our journal articles must be written in Word (unless you are lucky enough to be in the math and physics field where you can use latex). Mac’s make the obvious choice here. I really wish Apple would do more in this area – the more researchers and professors you have running around with Powerbooks, the more university students are exposed to them!

  6. As a Radiologic Technologist, I have been testing and using Osirix through it’s development. It is free and has the power of commercial vendor software/hardware packages that cost many times what a Desktop Mac does.
    It screams on my PowerMac G5 and renders faster than our Sun Dual UltraSpark GE Advantage Workstation. GE sells these for about $80-100k. A PowerMac G5 can be had for far less.
    A couple of local Radiologists have “switched” just to use this software. FYI- One of the target audiences for the original NeXT boxes was this very market-Medical Imaging. This app ahould be near and dear to the hearts of all the old NeXT people at Apple.

  7. Cool use of technology but there doesn’t seem to be any mention of how they comply with HIPAA. We’ll have “hip” radiologists and doctors out jogging to music on their iPods which also just happen to have the confidential health information of 20 or 40 gigs worth of patients.

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