Since its discovery in 1895 by Karl Roentgen, the fundamentals of X-ray imaging have changed little. Radiation, in the form of X-rays or gamma rays, is passed through the body, and the radiation forms an image on the receiving film or plate.
However, the process and methods are continually refined, with recent progress corresponding to advances in computer science and digital technology. These breakthroughs have given rise to CT or CAT scans, computed radiography, and digital radiography.
Continued research and development in imaging technology and ever-increasing computer capabilities promise an exciting future for radiology and its impact on patient care.
CT Scans Produce the First 3D Images
Computed Tomography (CT), also known as CAT scanning (Computed Axial Tomography), was invented in 1972 by British engineer Godfrey Hounsfield and South African-born physicist Allan Cormack, who later received the Nobel Peace Prize for their contributions to medicine and science.
Though the earliest scans took days to compile, modern CT systems can collect multiple slices of data and reconstruct a 512 x 512-matrix image from millions of data points in under a second. An entire chest image compiled from forty 8 mm slices can be scanned in five to ten seconds using top-of-the-line multi-slice CT systems.
Faster scanning reduces artifacts caused by patient movement, such as breathing or peristalsis. Speed also means shorter imaging sessions, which makes the modern CT machine much more patient-friendly. Research has led to excellent image quality and increased diagnostic reliability at the lowest possible x-ray dose.
Computed Radiography (CR): A New Approach to X-ray Images
CR is the digital replacement of conventional X-ray film radiography, with reusable plates containing a phosphorescant layer replacing traditional film image captures.
The first fully-functioning CR system was produced by Fuji in 1987, with many other companies like Konica Minolta following shortly after.
The CR imaging process can be explained rather simply in four steps:
- The reusable imaging plate is exposed to X-ray or gamma radiation
- The imaging plate is read and digitized by a digital scanner
- Utilizing specialized software, the digital image is displayed on a computer monitor for evaluation
- The imaging plate is automatically erased for immediate reuse
Most imaging plates can be used 1000 times or more, which virtually eliminates combustible waste.
The time required to produce images and make diagnoses was significantly decreased compared to the traditional X-ray technology.
Digital Radiography: The Current Standard for X-Ray Technology
Digital radiography (DR) was introduced a little over a decade ago, with many advantages over existing X-ray technology, including:
- Increased safety through reduced radiation
- Superior X-ray image enhancement
- Enhanced X-ray image quality
- Elimination of chemical developing agents
- Simplified operation
When combined with PACS (picture archiving and communication system), smooth and instantaneous access to patient data that includes X-ray images is available across departments, between facilities, at all times.
The elimination of hard copies that must be stored in a physical storage facility is a tremendous advantage because it drastically reduces the likelihood of lost or misfiled images, which makes compliance with HIPAA (Health Information Portability and Accountability Act) security standards simpler.
Each of these represents a major advancement from radiology’s origins.
However, radiology is always moving forward.
Expected Future Developments in Radiology: Where We May Be Headed
Although many of the methods developed over a century ago remain fundamental in today’s radiological technology, computers are increasingly becoming a part of radiographic diagnosis.
Advancements in artificial intelligence and automated diagnostic systems integrated with digital radiography imaging techniques may become a key development in the future of radiology.
Combining these new capabilities with trained professional analysis has the potential to increase accuracy and consistency while reducing costs.
Uniting computerized and human intelligences would also allow the radiologist to become a more active participant in improving patient care on a very detailed level. Neither humans nor computers are able to attain the best results without the other.
In a recent issue of Radiology, Hricak Hedvig, MD, PhD, spoke about these future possibilities related to oncology:
“We must be partners in developing ‘next-generation diagnostics,’ which are diagnostics with precision measurements and quantitative expressions that, through computational analytics, will allow for development of predictive biomarkers.”
In other words, if members in the field of radiology are willing and able to innovate and continuously progress, radiology can play an ever-increasing role in both precision medicine and value-driven health care.
The possibilities for future improvement in radiology equipment and methods are boundless and will undoubtedly continue improving medical care and positive outcomes for patients undergoing almost any form of treatment.
Preparing for the Future
If you feel that you’re falling behind the technology curve and that it’s time to reinvent your radiology practices and update your equipment to better meet your patient care needs, Southwest X-Ray is ready to partner with you to find the best solution for your facility or practice.