Informatics in Radiology: Use of CouchDB for Document-based Storage of DICOM Objects


Picture archiving and communication systems traditionally have depended on schema-based Structured Query Language (SQL) databases for imaging data management. To optimize database size and performance, many such systems store a reduced set of Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) metadata, discarding informational content that might be needed in the future. As an alternative to traditional database systems, document-based key-value stores recently have gained popularity. These systems store documents containing key-value pairs that facilitate data searches without predefined schemas. Document-based key-value stores are especially suited to archive DICOM objects because DICOM metadata are highly heterogeneous collections of tag-value pairs conveying specific information about imaging modalities, acquisition protocols, and vendor-supported postprocessing options. The authors used an open-source document-based database management system (Apache CouchDB) to create and test two such databases; CouchDB was selected for its overall ease of use, capability for managing attachments, and reliance on HTTP and Representational State Transfer standards for accessing and retrieving data. A large database was created first in which the DICOM metadata from 5880 anonymized magnetic resonance imaging studies (1,949,753 images) were loaded by using a Ruby script. To provide the usual DICOM query functionality, several predefined “views” (standard queries) were created by using JavaScript. For performance comparison, the same queries were executed in both the CouchDB database and a SQL-based DICOM archive. The capabilities of CouchDB for attachment management and database replication were separately assessed in tests of a similar, smaller database. Results showed that CouchDB allowed efficient storage and interrogation of all DICOM objects; with the use of information retrieval algorithms such as map-reduce, all the DICOM metadata stored in the large database were searchable with only a minimal increase in retrieval time over that with the traditional database management system. Results also indicated possible uses for document-based databases in data mining applications such as dose monitoring, quality assurance, and protocol optimization.

Simón J. Rascovsky, MD, MSc, Jorge A. Delgado, MD, Alexander Sanz, BS, Víctor D. Calvo, BS, and , Gabriel Castrillón, BS
From the Department of Research, Instituto de Alta Tecnología Médica de Antioquia,
Cra 50 #63-95, Medellín, Colombia.

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