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The developing world of medical imaging

Technology is relentlessly evolving and this can have a major impact on radiography roles. We take a look at some of the significant advances in medical imaging in recent years.

Advanced imaging processes such as MRI and CT scanning are well established. However, technology is constantly being refined and improved.  Recent advances have had a huge impact on the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Faster and more detailed imaging is enabling doctors to provide earlier and more accurate diagnoses, leading to better outcomes in many cases.

Advances in technology affect people at all levels of the health service and associated professions, not just directly like for a sonographer but even in diverse associated fields like criminal justice jobs. In recent times, one of the biggest changes that medical imaging professionals and doctors have seen is in data storage and sharing. It was in 1993 that the Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) standard was first established, replacing X-ray film with a fully digital workflow. The development of advanced picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) and radiology information systems (RIS) have been critical in helping clinicians improve operational efficiency and levels of care.

There's now a growing trend for healthcare providers to migrate from PACS to cloud-based systems. In a 2014 survey of healthcare executives carried out by the global Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), over 80% of respondents reported using some sort of cloud services. The Nuance PowerShare Network is already used by over 4,000 healthcare organisations in the USA and over three billion medical images have been shared via the network. Cloud-based storage provides clinicians with real-time access to images anywhere with a reliable internet connection and from any device, including laptops and tablets.

Another major advance is the use of CT scanning for heart patients. Just a few years ago, the only way to perform an angiography was to insert a catheter into an artery, inject a contrast material and take an X-ray. The newest CT scans achieve the same results non-invasively (the contrast material is injected in the patient's arm) and the process takes less than 25 minutes, rather than several hours.

In other areas of healthcare, imaging has replaced exploratory surgery. CT, MRI and ultrasound scans have become so sophisticated in recent years that they can tell doctors accurately what is going on inside a patient's body.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scanning has also become an increasingly important technique, often combined with CT scanning in one device. Unlike other technologies, which can only scan organs or tissue, PET can provide images of metabolic processes in the body, such as blood flow or glucose metabolism. It's commonly used for cancer diagnosis because it can pick up the metabolic changes associated with the disease before tumours or other physical changes are visible.

Digital mammography has revolutionised breast cancer screening. As well as providing a much higher level of detail than older technology, the scans are much easier and quicker to perform. Because the images are digital, they can be shared more easily with colleagues.

Whether you're a radiographer, radiologist, mammographer, sonographer or nuclear medicine technician, advances in technology will continue to change and expand the vital role that you play in a modern healthcare system.

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