Medical professionals typically use radiography technology to view the internal parts of the body for purposes of diagnosing and treating diverse health conditions. However, modern radiography is more advanced, efficient, and accurate than earlier technologies such as film and computed radiography. In particular, digital radiography has enhanced the accuracy and efficiency of medical diagnostics.
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Traditional Radiography Technologies
Analog Radiography (AR)
In a typical analog radiography system, x-ray radiation passes through the human body and hits an x-ray plate made of a transparent polyester film coated with a thin layer of photosensitive emulsion. X-rays that are not absorbed or scattered by the body hit the plate and form an image that physicians can use for medical diagnostic purposes. However, analog radiography has several shortcomings. Firstly, since the intensifying screens installed in the radiography equipment absorb up to half of the emitted radiation is absorbed by, only about 50% of the radiation reaches the x-ray plate/film. As such, analog radiography images generally tend to have clarity issues. Moreover, lighting conditions affect the quality of diagnostic images.
Computed Radiography (CR)
Computed radiography is based on an imaging plate/film that is placed inside a cassette similar to the ones used in analog radiography. When exposed to radiation, the cassette stores a latent image as a two-dimensional array of electrons. A reader in the CR machine then uses a scanning laser beam to excite these electrons and then process the stored data to generate a diagnostic image from the latent image. After this, the imaging plate is exposed to visible light by an “erasing lamp” to delete the current x-ray image, thereby making the plate available for reuse. Computed radiography machines are prone to loss of recorded signals, which translates to diagnostic image quality issues. According to research published in the Polish Journal of Radiology, computed radiography loses approximately 25% of the recorded signal between 10 minutes and eight hours after exposure of the imaging plate. For this reason, the CR reading process should begin immediately after the imaging plate is exposed to x-ray radiation.
Modern Radiography Technologies
Digital radiography (DR)
Unlike AR and CR, digital radiography is based on a semiconductor sensor that converts x-rays to electrical signals. In addition, digital radiography systems do not rely on the acquisition and processing of latent image data. This means DR systems do not require imaging plate readers, which resolves the image clarity problems that ail analog and computed radiography machines. Instead of using imaging plates, digital radiography relies on solid state and flat panel detectors that function as scintillators to convert x-rays to light. In turn, amorphous silica-based photodiode transistors convert the resulting light to electrons.
The Benefits of Digital Radiography
For starters, digital radiography is more efficient than AR or CR because it improves the brightness of diagnostic images by about 6,000 times without increasing the radiation dose that is passed through the human body. Although short-term exposure to x-rays is not risky, some people worry that the radiation could cause cancer-related cell mutations. Besides this, DR is cheaper than traditional radiography. For instance, one traditional radiograph requires materials worth $6,000 per year. In comparison, the same amount of money can buy a fully functioning albeit basic digital radiography machine with a single sensor. This means health facilities running on shoestring budgets can cut operating expenses by simply replacing traditional radiography machines with DR alternatives. Digital radiography is environmentally friendly because it does not involve the use of toxic chemicals. Operating and maintaining DR systems is easier because software upgrades and security patches can be implemented over the Internet.
Another major benefit of using DR systems is cloud storage. Medical professionals can store diagnostic images on cloud storage platforms and easily access or share them with others. Cloud storage also makes it easier to access images on the go via devices such as smartphones and tablets. Since digital radiography produces high- resolution images, they can be subjected to image processing procedures to reveal features that were not visible in the original images. For example, image sharpening could reveal stress or hairline fractures that tend to be very small cracks in bones of the feet or arms. It is also worth noting that DR images can be fed into artificial intelligence algorithms optimized to identify specific anatomical anomalies. In fact, some hospitals in developed countries including the US are using such tools to improve the accuracy of diagnostic processes. DR systems can be integrated with other devices that support wireless communication, thereby increasing workflow and productivity significantly.
The Future of Digital Radiography
Digital radiography has a bright future because it offers cost benefits and operational conveniences that AR and CR cannot match. This notwithstanding,technological advances in computer hardware and software will enhance the quality of diagnostic images even more. Sharper and bigger diagnostic images will lead to improvements in treatment outcomes for both patients and health facilities. On the other hand, hospitals will benefit greatly from operational cost savings. Remember digital images require minimal storage space and can be processed/manipulated by a few people or automatically meaning hospitals will have a more manageable wage burden. In the near future, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies could revolutionize how doctors access and view DR images. For example, AR and VR will enable medical professionals to view diagnostic images in 3D. Patients will be able to join their physicians in virtual environments to view DR images and participate in treatment discussions even from the comfort of their homes. These diagnostic elements would be virtually impossible to implement with analog or computed radiography technologies.
Radiography has evolved from inefficient film-based imaging technology to more accurate and efficient digital imagery. Traditionally, analog and computed radiography were the only alternatives available to hospitals. However, the arrival of digital radiography systems that produce cheaper and sharper images has eliminated the diagnostic difficulties that doctors faced especially when trying to identify anatomical features. Furthermore, DR has made accessing and sharing diagnostic images electronically much easier. Other benefits of DR include minimal environmental pollution, low radiation doses, ease of performing post-processing image manipulation, integration with diagnostic-specific artificial intelligence tools, as well as ease of maintenance.
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