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Kinecting with the dead

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | July 07, 2011
From the June 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

“The trouble is, you’re also working in a medial examiner system on a county or state budget,” he said. And with ongoing financial crises, it’s hard to ask for funding for CT or MRI machines, which cost millions of dollars.

In fact, the Virtopsy group estimates a full-body CT scan adds about 1,000-1,500 Swiss francs per exam ($1,134 - $1,701). MRI, which generally carries $100,000 in yearly maintenance costs, probably also adds 1,500 Swiss francs.

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Another snag for adoption is the need for specialists to interpret the images. In general, the Virtopsy group says doctors with some training in an emerging discipline, forensic radiology, are preferred for image interpretation. “A normal radiologist is not the person you need,” Ebert said. “Some of the changes you see postmortem could be mistaken [for another pathology]. You need to read images differently.”

Hands-free PACS manipulation
Whether it becomes a standard tool in the United States or not, the Swiss team is still working to make virtopsies as efficient as possible. And recently, they found a $140 entertainment device that might give virtopsy examiners’ workflow a boost.

The device is Microsoft’s Kinect, and the problem it solves is a gory one.

The autopsy hall is, after all, a messy place. Medical examiners get their hands dirty with body fluids and other contaminants. If they want to browse through CT slides or look at other imaging data on a PACS system, they have to remove their gloves and wash up, or ask someone to operate the computer for them. This takes time. But the Virtopsy group thinks the Kinect might be able to simplify this.

Released last fall by Microsoft for the Xbox 360 video game console, the Kinect is, in essence, a camera system with a microphone that lets players manipulate on-screen images using just body movements, gestures and voice commands. It was designed to compete with Nintendo’s massively popular Wii, and was launched with a slew of family-friendly titles like “Kinectimals” – where players interact with adorable baby animals.

But many people saw it had potential beyond playing with cartoon tiger cubs. Shortly after its Nov. 4 launch, open-source enthusiasts Adafruit Industries put up a $3,000 bounty on the first person to come up with an open-source driver for the device. By Nov. 10, hacker Hector Martin claimed the prize. Soon, artists, scientists and entrepreneurs were finding new uses for it. One team developed a program so a performer could strum an “air guitar” that actually creates music. Others figured out how to use gestures to control robots and computer-rendered puppets.

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