What is DICOM?
DICOM, from an informatics and community standpoint, is one of the most successful efforts for a standard that we can think of. DICOM stands for Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine, and since its creation in the early 1980’s, has been the bread and butter for the storage and transfer of medical imaging datasets. It’s so much more than a file format, or a transfer protocol, DICOM defines both formats, quality standards, and transfer protocols for clinical use.
Who uses DICOM?
Have you ever been to the dentist, or had an X-ray? An ultrasound, cat scan, or an MRI? DICOM is an international standard, and it’s implemented in just about every radiology / cardiology / radiotherapy device that you can think of. It’s even used by opthalmologists and dentists! It’s the most widely deployed healthcare messaging standard in the world, with literally billions of images here and there.
While DICOM has driven revolution in medical imaging since its first (official) publication in 1993, it is clear that this digital workflow must be integrated into the growing space of modern technology. While it’s unlikely for hospitals to operate on the “bleeding edge” of what is out there, it’s important that the tools used to transfer, store, and generally work with these medical images are modern and maintained. For this time, these technologies include:
- container-based, modular workflows
- cloud-based resources
- integration of images and metadata into these resources
- easy query, retrieval and movement of data for clinical and research use
While PACS (picture and archiving communications systems) have also played a prominent role in the secure transfer of medical images, it is commonly the case that a single PACS might not be enough to support the clinical and research side of a hospital. The strategy of many hospitals is (usually) along the lines of hiring a vendor to setup and maintain this PACS. This traditional practice becomes costly, and the space between the users (physicians and researchers) and the software driving the tools grows larger. In this common reality, the users aren’t empowered to build the tools that they need to develop software and tools to drive research and clinical practice.
Thus, the easier that we, as an open source community, can make it for the data scientist, physician, graduate student, or other interested developer to build software that uses DICOM datasets and protocol, the more that we foster development of things that can help people. This is our goal. As open source developers, we believe that we can play a prominent role in addressing this issue.
It’s not shameful to start learning about DICOM on this well known site, or read more about it directly from NEMA.