Content-based visual information retrieval (CBVIR) or content-based image retrieval (CBIR) has been one on the most vivid research areas in the field of computer vision over the last 10 years. The availability of large and steadily growing amounts of visual and multimedia data, and the development of the Internet underline the need to create thematic access methods that offer more than simple text-based queries or requests based on matching exact database fields. Many programs and tools have been developed to formulate and execute queries based on the visual or audio content and to help browsing large multimedia repositories. Still, no general breakthrough has been achieved with respect to large varied databases with documents of differing sorts and with varying characteristics. Answers to many questions with respect to speed, semantic descriptors or objective image interpretations are still unanswered. In the medical field, images, and especially digital images, are produced in ever-increasing quantities and used for diagnostics and therapy. The Radiology Department of the University Hospital of Geneva alone produced more than 12,000 images a day in 2002. The cardiology is currently the second largest producer of digital images, especially with videos of cardiac catheterization ( approximately 1800 exams per year containing almost 2000 images each). The total amount of cardiologic image data produced in the Geneva University Hospital was around 1 TB in 2002. Endoscopic videos can equally produce enormous amounts of data. With digital imaging and communications in medicine (DICOM), a standard for image communication has been set and patient information can be stored with the actual image(s), although still a few problems prevail with respect to the standardization. In several articles, content-based access to medical images for supporting clinical decision-making has been proposed that would ease the management of clinical data and scenarios for the integration of content-based access methods into picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) have been created. This article gives an overview of available literature in the field of content-based access to medical image data and on the technologies used in the field. Section 1 gives an introduction into generic content-based image retrieval and the technologies used. Section 2 explains the propositions for the use of image retrieval in medical practice and the various approaches. Example systems and application areas are described. Section 3 describes the techniques used in the implemented systems, their datasets and evaluations. Section 4 identifies possible clinical benefits of image retrieval systems in clinical practice as well as in research and education. New research directions are being defined that can prove to be useful. This article also identifies explanations to some of the outlined problems in the field as it looks like many propositions for systems are made from the medical domain and research prototypes are developed in computer science departments using medical datasets. Still, there are very few systems that seem to be used in clinical practice. It needs to be stated as well that the goal is not, in general, to replace text-based retrieval methods as they exist at the moment but to complement them with visual search tools.