Recently, a close relative broke her leg while hiking in Colorado. It was pretty serious, and will require surgery. Fortunately, our neighbor is an orthopedic surgeon and was able to look at the CD-ROM with the CAT scan that was taken at the ER in Colorado. The process by which doctors now share complex visual information, such as a CAT scans, was interesting. And very instructive for those who seek to take advantage of technology.
Spoiler alert: in a contest between sophisticated, specialized medical software and a basic iPhone, the iPhone wins.
First, my neighbor had to use his Windows laptop to view the CD-ROM. The disk had a special viewer program, along with the images of the leg fracture. There were several steps in this viewing process: (1) boot up computer, (2) load disk, (3) open special program, (4) open images, then (5) maneuver around CAT scans to find best view. Elapsed time: 8 minutes.
I asked my doctor friend if how he was going to send the key images to the doctor he wanted to refer us to. I presumed he was going to take a screenshot with the computer, or use the specialized program to do that. Instead, he held his iPhone up to the screen whenever he saw an image that he deemed important and took a picture with the phone’s camera. Elapsed time: 30 seconds.
He told me that it was much easier to use the phone, and the program was “nice and all” and he was “sure it was worth the money,” but he and his colleagues “just found it easier to use the iPhone because the program was overly complicated and frustrating when things had to be done quickly.”
When he removed the CD-ROM from his computer the machine put up an error message. He sighed heavily and then complained that, “actually, the specialized CAT scan viewing program totally stinks.” Apparently, it’s hard to get the program to release the disk without causing the computer to have to be rebooted. He said in daily practice it winds up taking much longer to look at digital images than it would to use analog ones, such as the old X-Ray images. So bottom line: they only use the specialized CAT scan viewing program because they have to.
Getting to see the specialist my friend recommended was tricky, because we had to deal with humans and bureaucracy (but that’s another story).
Before we could see the specialist, we had to go to the ER to get some pain medication (it was the weekend). The ER doctor came in the room, and asked us what kind of injury it was. Since it was hard to describe, and I knew I had an easier way to explain it, I just pulled out my iPhone and showed her the pictures my doctor friend had taken. I also handed her the CD-ROM.
First she spent a lot of time examining the pictures on my iPhone. She zoomed in with the familiar two finger gesture, and she nodded with satisfaction. She knew right away what the problem was, and that additional pain medication was truly called for. Eventually she took the disk back to feed into a Windows computer, and I could tell that she was dreading the process. We weren’t exactly in heaven either, but we were happy that being able to convey critical visual information easily on an iPhone had made the ER experience a lot smoother and more efficient.
Key takeaway: when it comes to technology, the simplest solutions using the most familiar tools are often the best. And, if they’re not the best, odds are people will prefer them anyway. So, if you find yourself tempted by some specialized software package that promises technical Nirvana, consider if some simple tool you already have might not be the better solution. Maybe even a simple iPhone.
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