AAEP Convention 2004: Emerging Technologies Table Topic

Tablet computers, Metron PX, Hi-8, true digital, megapixels, lithium vs. NiMH batteries, inverters, iGo Juice, Photoshop--what do all these things have to do with the equine veterinarian? The message of the Emerging Technologies Table Topic was they can do quite a lot to help.

"You get into a lot of these things out of necessity, not fun and games," said moderator Dick Galley, DVM, a Willow Park, Texas, veterinarian. Beginning the discussion with digital radiography (DR), Galley and co-moderator Mark Martinelli, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, of California Equine Orthopedics, agreed that it is the way forward.

"DR is definitely something that will change your life," added Martinelli. "It gives you the best information, it's easy, it's quick, and gives you instant feedback. If you don't get the view you want, you can retake it immediately, rather than waiting to develop the films back at the clinic. If the view or exposure is not optimal, you would have to go back out to that farm and do it all over again."

"It's a huge benefit to clients," Galley noted. "If you can print out a version of the X ray with lesions marked up for people who can't read X rays, it's a great benefit., In addition, it can be especially helpful when working with farriers, "

When practitioners switch from film to digital radiography, Martinelli noted that prices tend to increase by at least $10 per plate to pay for the equipment. "If you are taking a large volume of radiographs each year, you need to look closely at this technology," he said. "To me it was worth the investment to improve my radiographic studies."

They discussed image enhancement software and noted that it was a wonderful tool, but it is no replacement for a good quality image in the first place.  Martinelli noted that a practitioner should never base an opinion on someone else's digital X ray unless it is in the original DICOM format. "Always ask for a disk written with the DICOM software rather than just viewing the jpeg images, then you can adjust the contrast as you like," he recommended.

Other high-tech methods of imaging that were discussed included digital still and video cameras. "Some of the most valuable tools we can have are a good digital camera and video camera with slow motion for lameness exams," stated Galley. "And they don't have to be high-dollar ones. You want a good-quality zoom lens (he prefers optical vs. digital zoom) and stabilization system. I like the optical stabilization system better than the electronic one; you get no loss of quality."

Video of purchase exams for documentation was discussed. Galley noted that sometimes this can be a very good way to keep records for both parties.

Martinelli highly recommended rechargeable batteries for these tools, as they tend to run down batteries quickly. He also suggested making sure that any camera can easily be used with different computers, without a lot of special software. "You just want to be able to plug it into the USB or firewire port and go," he added.

Galley recommended getting electronics that use standard AA batteries, and replace them with rechargeable lithium ion or nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Another charge option that came highly recommended was an inverter for powering electronics on the road using a car's cigarette lighter.

Martinelli championed the iGo Juice for powering different devices. "It has tips that change out for powering different devices," he said. "It works on airplanes, with the cigarette lighter, power outlets, etc., and only costs about $80. I recently bought an extra laptop battery for about $100, and would not have if I had bought the iGo Juice first."

Image Control

One attendee asked about the value of Metron PX, which is a software program designed to objectively measure and record data from digital images of a horse's foot, and also can compare those measurements to breed averages. Martinelli noted that he thought it was a great tool for recordkeeping and evaluating trends in a foot over time, but, "I just don’t like idea that a computer can tell a farrier how to shoe a horse or how to treat a specific lameness."

Returning to digital radiographs, one attendee asked what program was best for enhancing jpeg images for recordkeeping or printing. Galley uses Photoshop Elements, which isn't quite as full-featured as Photoshop, but he noted that he doesn't miss any features he doesn't have with that program. "The feature I use most is inversion of X rays (conversion of white to black and vice versa), because it takes a lot less expensive ink to print those. Also, clients like it because they can see the lesions better."

Image file size and archiving was also discussed. For simply keeping photographs of radiographs for printing, Galley suggested looking into using file and quality settings slightly below the maximum to conserve disk space with minimal loss of quality.  For the medical record, however, Martinelli noted that DICOM is the medical standard accepted by both the human and veterinary fields.  Images, such as radiographs, ultrasound, bone scans, and MRIs that are acquired in DICOM should remain in the format for archiving purposes.

Remote Records

Tablet computers, character recognition, and syncing of records formed the end of the table topic. Attendees discussed the pros and cons of several options, including small portable printers, mini computers, note-taking on tablet computers, and voice recognition for records transcription.

About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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