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Doctors prescribe iPods for storage

UCLA radiologists didn't have enough space on hard discs to store high-res images. So they turned to Apple music players. Photos: From X ray to iPod

While Apple is riding high on the sales of the iPod, the iconic music player is morphing into a business tool for radiologists at the University of California, Los Angeles.

They are teaming the devices with an open-source platform to help the medical community cut costs.

UCLA's Dr. Osman Ratib, who has a background in medical imaging, wanted to find a way to sidestep the $100,000 workstations needed to view high-resolution images that require 3D rendering. With help from programmer and fellow radiologist Dr. Antoine Rosset, he created Osirix, an open-source application, to enable radiologists to teleconference with the images on Mac desktop systems.

"The platform has similar functionality (to the high-end workstations); it's accessible to the rest of the medical community, and you don't have to spend $100,000, $200,000, to view the images," Ratib said.

He added that he was a "strong advocate" of the open-source development model. The doctors were able to build the software using ready-made components and add the environment and interface themselves.

The platform took nine months to create, according to Ratib. "It very quickly took off," he said. "Before we'd showed it in any meeting, we had hundreds, and very soon thousands, of users."

When it came time to find a way to store the high-resolution images, Ratib turned to another Apple staple--the iPod.

"It was difficult finding enough space on the hard disk to keep image sets," Ratib said. "They don't fit on discs, they don't fit on memory sticks."

"It's amazing. (With iPods), people are carrying around 60GB in their pocket, when I don't even have 60GB on my computer," he said. "That's the beauty of adopting consumer technology."

In addition to using the iPod for storing image sets, Ratib adapted the software to be compatible with the iPod Photo after its release in December, giving medical staff a "cute, sexy" way to show images to other personnel.

Despite warnings from analysts that all removeable storage--including the iPod--is a security risk, Ratib said that using an iPod doesn't present an additional inherent security risk.

"It's not the device, it's how you use it...I don't think an iPod has any different risk to any informatics device. We strongly recommended to anonymize the data," Ratib said.

"When (users) are outside the institution, they can be compliant or not, depending on their behavior. It's not different to copying it to CD or memory discs."

While Ratib described the medical profession as "a little more traditional in adopting technology," the software is also enabling medical workers to start working remotely. Osirix is compatible with Apple's videoconferencing software, so physicians can see and share medical images.

"We rigged the software to mimic the basically shows what's on your screen" to other iChat users, Ratib said. "We were that close to having Steve Jobs presenting it as a feature in the San Francisco keynote."

Jo Best reported for