Last April, during a banquet in Chengdu, China, members of the DICOM Standards Committee paused for a toast to celebrate the DICOM Standard's 25th anniversary. Or was it the 15th? No one really cared. All agreed that the establishment, in 1983, of the ACR/NEMA Committee (which developed the first, second and third versions of that Standard) was worthy of a toast. Likewise, they thought it was appropriate to toast the 1993 publication and demonstration of the first truly successful version of the world's only standard for Digital Imaging and Communication in Medicine (DICOM). The fact that people from Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, and the United States came together in the same room for a DICOM Conference was clear evidence of the Standard's universal reach.
DICOM is employed the world over to ensure the interoperability of medical imaging equipment used to produce, store, display, process, send, retrieve, query, or print medical images and their associated documents as well as manage related workflow. It is incredibly successful. It is used because it works – in fact, participants in the 1993 demonstrations wore big red buttons proclaiming "DICOM – The Standard that Works." It is used because great care is taken to ensure that while it grows and grows in size, it doesn't go out of date. DICOM is also used because it is available to everyone at no cost – you can download it for free at ftp://medical.nema.org/medical/dicom/2008. (Careful, it takes a while to download 3300 pages of tables, figures, and text.)
So, who does use it, and what do they use it for? DICOM is used in radiology, breast imaging, cardiology, radiotherapy, oncology, ophthalmology, dentistry, pathology, surgery, veterinary applications, neurology, pneumology, etc. Because of this success, DICOM also provides a model for similar standards in other disciplines outside of medicine (e.g., inspection of airplane parts). Other image-rich tasks are expected to adopt DICOM's approach in the coming years.