Radiology imaging is used in innumerable ways to diagnose and treat illness and injury, and radiologists are the medical specialists responsible for performing imaging studies and interpreting the results. Some radiologists further specialize, in areas like vascular interventional radiology, neuroimaging, nuclear medicine, pediatric imaging, or mammography, among others.
Today’s radiologist not only uses radiology imaging in diagnosing illnesses and injuries, but increasingly uses radiologic technology to actually intervene and treat them. Advances in radiology are allowing development of procedures that are less invasive, more effective, and less costly. In any hospital, radiology is indispensable. Not only is radiology imaging essential in initial diagnoses, it has an important role in monitoring a patient’s response to treatment and predicting (and increasingly influencing) the outcome.
How Radiology Benefits the Practice of Medicine
Radiology imaging has demonstrated over and over that it can effect significant improvements in patient outcomes, patient experience, patient safety, and the efficiency of medical services delivery.
As just one example of improved patient outcomes, radiology has allowed earlier diagnosis of cancer, which is critical for maximizing treatment options. During the course of an illness like cancer, early access to radiology can help ensure the most appropriate clinical referral, so diagnosis can be made promptly, saving money, and allowing treatment to begin more quickly.
People with long term conditions, such as heart failure, can be empowered to have better quality of life through radiology imaging. For example, an exacerbation of heart failure can be diagnosed quickly, and in some cases early intervention can help the patient avoid unnecessary hospital admission.
Radiologists are keenly attuned to maximizing safety of radiology imaging procedures, selecting and customizing imaging procedures for individual patient needs. This avoids unnecessary imaging investigations and minimizes radiation dose to the patient. Furthermore, through use of interventional radiology procedures, like stenting of aortic aneurysms, patient safety can be enhanced through treatments that are far less invasive than alternatives like open surgery.
Radiology is also essential to improving the efficiency of medical services, helping avoid use of more expensive care resources. When radiologists are part of a multi-disciplinary team, they can assist other physicians in determining the most appropriate radiology imaging investigations, performing the radiology procedures, and interpreting the results. By acting as a “bridge” between primary and secondary care, radiologists help ensure efficient delivery of appropriate care and help patients avoid invasive or unnecessary procedures.
Radiology as the “Eyes” of Medicine
Radiology imaging takes numerous forms. Improving the care and outcomes for large numbers of patients are four important recent advances in radiology: computed tomography (CT) angiography, imaging in place of exploratory surgery, positron emission tomography (PET)/CT scans for cancer, and digital mammography.
The original type of angiography was revolutionary, but CT angiography marks another major technological advance. CT angiography is completely noninvasive and allows doctors to obtain the same information that used to require traditional catheter angiography, which took several hours and often required overnight hospitalization. With CT angiography, contrast material is injected into the arm, and the entire process can take less than half an hour. It can be used for all but a small percentage of traditional angiography procedures.
Imaging tests have largely replaced exploratory surgery due to the quality of radiology images that can be obtained now. No longer do physicians have to perform surgery to know what’s going on inside the body. With CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound, radiology imaging quality has improved and exploratory surgery is not needed nearly as often.
PET/CT scans that are performed using one device rather than separate PET and CT devices, have become increasingly important in the diagnosis of cancer. PET scans aren’t designed for imaging organs or tissue, but rather are used to depict biological functions like blood flow. This is critical to detecting metabolic changes or blood flow changes due to tumors or other physical changes in organs. By combining PET and CT, doctors can view metabolic information and anatomic detail all at once.
Digital mammography offers much better detail than older mammography technology. Digital mammograms are faster and easier to perform, and because the images are in a digital format, they can be transmitted electronically with no image degradation to specialists or consultants. Digital mammography has been shown to be more accurate in detecting breast cancer in women under 50, those with dense breast tissue, and those who are premenopausal.
Radiology as the “Ears” of Medicine
How can radiology imaging be the “ears” of medicine? With ultrasound. Most people are familiar with ultrasound for tracking fetal development during pregnancy, but it can be used in many other applications. Miniature ultrasound probes can be attached to surgical tools, allowing surgeons to greatly improve accuracy. This reduces risk of repeat surgeries and increases patient safety. Ultrasound imaging can also be combined with radio frequency (RF) ablation, allowing ablation therapy to be used, for example, on unwanted electrical conduction pathways in the wall of the heart, with far greater accuracy.
When surgeons have extensive knowledge of local anatomy, ultrasound imaging can help identify tumors, or identify “landmark” anatomical structures that help with navigation to the site where surgical intervention takes place. This type of radiology imaging can also be used by a highly trained interventional radiologist to find damaged tissue, which shows subtle differences on ultrasound images compared to normal healthy tissue.
In some types of cancer, catheter-mounted ultrasound technology may sometimes allow doctors to identify tumors behind acoustically opaque zones without having to perform a biopsy. This is less invasive than the traditional surgical biopsy. Ultrasound may not be something that can be heard, but when that sound energy is converted to images, it can improve diagnosis and surgical navigation considerably.
Radiology imaging in the hands of a talented radiology specialist is used in every medical specialization. It has greatly improved diagnosis of injury and illness, allowed doctors to monitor medical progress, and is now being used in innovative interventional radiology techniques that can actually treat serious medical conditions. SteleRAD is owned and operated by Board-certified radiologists, including Drs. Arfaras, Guben, Erickson, Hughes, Gordon, and Ring, who are interventional radiology subspecialists. The radiology imaging experts of SteleRAD also bring extensive experience in cardiovascular imaging, breast imaging, fluoroscopy, musculoskeletal radiology, neuroradiology, pediatric radiology, and ultrasound.
SteleRAD offers its services to physician practices, imaging centers, and hospitals in South Florida, backed by over 40 years of experience in providing outstanding radiology services. To learn more, call 954-358-5250, or contact SteleRAD online.