Imagine if there wasn’t a device for navigating among images and that our task was to produce one that could efficiently browse among a stack of images, change the grey scale, freely change the orientation of a stack (MPR), synchronize and rotate images, do measurements and so on. If we put together the best developers and the most far-sighted customers and gave them total freedom, what would they come up with? I can’t answer that. But I’m sure it wouldn’t be a keypad with letters beside a thingamajig with two buttons and a wheel. Nevertheless, the keyboard and mouse are by far the most common interaction devices today.
Compared to other professional groups with complicated assignments and high stress levels, radiology hasn’t progressed that far when it comes to input interfaces. It’s self-evident that a fighter pilot has an extremely advanced input device to fly his plane. Rolling a mouse wheel to turn left would soon prove to be an unsuitable solution, to say the least. Or imagine trying to play a Bach pastoral suite on a church organ by choosing the right note with a left click.
The theme of this article is individual interaction with RIS and PACS, with a special focus on the increasingly demanding work of reviewing images, where the amount of image data continues to grow steadily. Here is a little ”smörgåsbord” of possibilities that radiology might want to look into.
Flexible touch panels
A strong trend is touch interfaces, made popular mainly by the iPhone. Development continues and today there are highly sensitive touch panels where you can use as many fingers as you want. Since the panel can also function as a display, you can freely create a graphic interface which is suited to Sectra RIS and PACS. In addition, it is possible to individualize the interface, a part of the user profile.
Other technologies can also be worth looking at more closely. Adaptable keypads where the symbols on the keys can be changed dynamically, touch panels controlled with a pen, voice control or why not a foot device as an extra.
New design makes life easier
Even without replacing the keyboard and mouse, you can make interaction more efficient by thinking about the graphic interface in new ways. RIS & PACS are rich applications with broad functionality. The other side of the coin is that menu sizes are increasing as are the number of millimetres the cursor has to be moved every day. There are already good ways of handling this situation—I recommend that everybody checks to see if using shortcuts and individually configuring menus could make life easier. There are also more visionary ideas such as adapting the selection of functions to the activity. Probably only a handful of functions are needed for each activity and each step in the workflow. The challenge is, of course, that you change activity so often—yet the system has to remain flexible.
The third area that could potentially improve interaction is letting the system analyze usage and suggest improvements. Today we often see that our customers make far too little use of a lot of efficient functions. One way of dealing with this is through continuous training and we’re happy to see that our customers increasingly see it as time well spent. Building on this, imagine that the system analyzes which functions an individual user uses and compares these with a typical user. The differences result in an individualized suggestion to try functions that you may not have discovered. Perhaps comparisons could be made with an appointed role-model such as a ”super user” who has been assigned the task of exploring the best possible usage of the products. A further development could be that the system suggests and designs the macro for those commands always made in the sequence. However, an incredibly important aspect is balancing how and when the system suggests improvements. There’s nothing more irritating than when a program forces you to interrupt an activity to click on a pop-up.
The next step?
The conclusion is that a lot that can be done, both when it comes to down-to-earth and visionary solutions. You can already benefit from relatively simple things. One example of this from Sectra’s current product portfolio is the keypad used in mammography screening. It’s not about creating a science fiction device; the recipe for success is to come up with a straightforward solution that is specially adapted to a specific task. Sectra is interested in starting development projects for innovative interaction. Our approach is as it’s always been—we want to do it in close cooperation with our customers. This sort of development requires a high level of commitment. That is why we would like to cooperate with a number of customers who are prepared to make an extra effort. If you are interested, please get in touch with me.
Claes Lundström, PhD, Research Director Medical IT