The health and medical sectors have grown enormously in recent years. Technological advancements have played a vital role in the growth of the medical field. Even artificial intelligence has made its way into the health sector.
One of the major divisions of the medical sector is medical imaging, which has received considerable attention recently. It has become an in-demand career for many as it is still nascent. This blog will explore various aspects of medical imaging technology and give a comprehensive overview to help you navigate the career opportunities it offers.
What Is Medical Imaging?
Medical imaging is the procedure concerned with taking images of the internal part of the human body for clinical analysis. The human body requires imaging when it suffers from any internal discomfort to understand if the internal organs are working as expected.
Medical imaging focuses on finding abnormalities in the internal body parts hidden beneath the bones and the skin. In addition, bones are also scanned at times to reveal abnormalities within them.
Medical evaluations such as EEG and ECG are also considered part of medical imaging, although they do not produce images. Similarly, although imaging removed organs are common on medical grounds, they are considered pathology and not medical imaging.
History of Medical Imaging
The first known case of medical imaging traces back to the nineteenth century. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Conrad Rontgen discovered a new type of light ray that could penetrate through various substances. He imaged bones with this ray, which was later called the X-ray.
In 1946, scientists started using fluorescent screens to minimise radiation associated with the X-ray. In 1972, Computed Tomography or CT, was invented. It had the same issue of high radiation exposure. However, with the advancement of time and technology, the amount of exposure came down.
In 1978, scientists took the first MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) image of the brain. MRI has proved to be a solution to the overexposure issue of X-ray technology.
Importance of Medical Imaging
Since its invention, medical imaging has provided valuable information about the internal part of the human body. Here are a few advantages of the medical imaging technology.
- With medical imaging performed, the physician can understand the abnormalities in the human body. It helps them make accurate decisions. For some critical diseases like cancer, timely imaging can save a life.
- The procedures for medical imaging are usually painless and don’t require any special preparations in most cases.
- Medical imaging can often save money by reducing the cost of treatment significantly. Having identified the abnormality through imaging, physicians can prescribe the right medicines instead of wasting time and effort in further diagnosis.
- A significant development in technology has reduced the radiation risk of some medical imaging tests significantly. So, it is safer to use radiography and imaging technology nowadays.
- In recent days, medical imaging has been used for complicated surgeries also. Surgeons can monitor the progress of surgery with the help of a high-resolution X-ray.
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Cons of Medical Imaging
Although medical imaging technologies have enhanced our medical system, they bring a few disadvantages, too.
- Being exposed to even a small dosage of radiation means there are chances of developing cancer. Radiography, Fluoroscopy and CT Scan all have variable levels of radiation exposure. Other effects of ionising radiation include hair loss and reddening of the skin.
- Although the amount of risk is low, pregnant women must consult a doctor before having a test related to radiation, especially before an X-ray.
- Sometimes, the contrast dye injected into the veins causes allergic reactions. These dyes enable better imaging of body structures.
- Some tests, like MRI and PET scans, take longer to complete. It can become hazardous, especially for kids. Sedation is one option to keep them quiet for extended periods.
Types of Medical Imaging
In today’s world, various types of medical imaging are in demand for their accuracy and productivity. Here are a few most noteworthy medical imaging technologies.
Salient features of X-ray imaging are:
- X-ray is a type of radiology imaging technology.
- These tests are quick and painless. Usually, it takes around 15 minutes.
- These use ionising radiation for imaging.
- X-rays can diagnose bone fractures and cracks, various infections, arthritis, breast cancer, issues related to the digestive system, and others.
The salient features of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) are:
- These tests take 45 minutes to an hour to complete.
- MRIs use radio waves and magnetic fields.
- MRIs can diagnose tumours, abnormalities in spinal cords, stroke, multiple sclerosis, injuries in joints and tendons, aneurysms, and others.
CT scan is a type of radiology and imaging technology whose features include:
- These tests, like X-rays, are quick to complete and take around 15 minutes.
- These tests use multiple X-rays and create a cross-section of the internal body parts.
- CT Scans can diagnose bone fractures, cancers and other tumours, heart diseases, injuries and infections, and others.
The salient features of a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan are:
- These take around 1.5 – 2 hours to complete.
- They use radioactive drugs and a scanning machine. Their primary objective is to identify how the internal organs are functioning.
- PET scans can diagnose cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, diseases related to coronary arteries, and others.
The features of an Ultrasound Scan or Ultrasonography include:
- These tests take moderate time to complete. The duration of the test ranges from 30 minutes to an hour.
- They use high-frequency sound waves.
- Ultrasound Scans can diagnose gallbladder diseases, blood flow-related issues, joint inflammation, and others. These can also monitor pregnancy and guide biopsies.
Medical Imaging: A Step-by-Step Guide
Medical imaging is a multi-stage process. From acquiring the image to storing it securely, medical imaging requires several steps for completion.
Formation of Image
Image formation is the process of acquiring raw image data and converting it into usable images. It consists of the following steps-
1. Collecting Image Data
Acquiring raw image data is the first step in medical imaging. This image data consists of all the aspects required for any future references.
Various types of medical imaging use different principles to capture images. For example, MRI uses a radiofrequency signal, whereas Ultrasonography uses echoes for capturing images.
The entire data acquisition procedure can be divided into three different stages. These are
- Identifying a physical quantity and converting it into an electrical signal
- Arranging the signal acquired
- Digitisation of the signal acquired
For image reconstruction, mathematical processing of the acquired raw data results in an image. For a multidimensional image, different data sets are used. Analytical and iterative are two algorithms used to solve this complicated scenario.
Computation of Image
The reconstructed image data undergoes several methods to produce the clinically required information during the computation process. The stages of computing include the following.
Stage 1: Image Enhancing
The reconstructed image goes through further enhancements to ensure improved quality. The two methods used for enhancement are:
- Spatial domain technique that optimises the contrast, and
- Frequency domain technique that sharpens and smoothens the image
Stage 2: Image Analysing
Image analysis is the most significant part of image computing. It also consists of several steps or methods.
- Image segmentation is the process which divides the image into partitions.
- Registration of images aligns various images into the correct category. It is helpful to acquire images through different tests.
- During image quantification, the focus is on the determination of various properties of the structure. These properties may include composition, volume, diameter and others.
Stage 3: Visualising Image
In this procedure, the image is represented in a manner that enables better interpretation of physiological and anatomical data. Now, the image is ready to use and share if necessary.
Stage 4: Image Storing
Storing and managing the images are equally important parts of medical imaging technology. Some multiple technologies and standards provide better options for managing medical images.
Medical Imaging Tools: The Present and the Future
The future of medical imaging technology is vastly dependent on ever-progressing technologies. Multiple tools enhance the way we use medical imaging. Here are a few examples of the technologies in use and a look into the future of medical imaging.
The tools that we use to enhance our experience of using medical imaging include:
The use of 3D imaging technology has been growing for some time now. Multiplanar reconstruction is a procedure to obtain images through a 3D reconstructed model. Although it is not perfect yet, it is still in use.
True 3D imaging is a process that physicians use to create a holographic replica of an organ. It allows them to prepare for future surgeries in a better way.
There was a time when you had to wait a long time to obtain an image after an X-ray or a CT scan. It caused several issues, like delays in treating patients in emergencies and decision-making in some cases.
But, with real-time imaging, physicians and clinicians can look into the image while taking it and make decisions then and there.
Image fusion refers to merging two or more different imaging data into one. Examples of such image fusion are PET Scan with CT Scan, and PET Scan with MRI. By fusing these three into one dataset, we can increase the accuracy and sensitivity of the results obtained through medical imaging.
Several tools have already made medical imaging more accurate and dependable. But, there is more for it in the future.
Storing and sharing medical image files are a bit of a hazard these days. Several medical imaging take place around the world daily. Cloud-based storage applications have come to the rescue for these images.
Having medical imaging files secured in cloud storage means they can be shared with anyone of interest, in this case, a consultant doctor. It aids in providing better care to patients ultimately.
The medical world is no exception to AI, like any other sector. Using an AI for medical imaging reduces the time required to analyse a file physically.
It can also detect abnormalities too small to detect through human eyes. In addition, AI can compare patients’ previous scan reports with the latest one if both are present in the electronic medical record.
Although we can use AI for medical imaging technology, it is safer to physically asses the results obtained through AI as the technology is not yet completely reliable.
Careers in Medical Imaging
With the need for medical imaging rising, career options are becoming more lucrative now. These are some of the crucial career options in medical imaging-
As the requirements for X-rays and CT scans are rising, registered radiologic technologists are in demand.
Medical sonographers are also one of the in-demand job titles in medical imaging. Apart from hospitals, they work in diagnostic labs and physician’s offices.
MRI technologists are appointed in hospitals and diagnostic centres.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Nuclear Medicine Technologists specialise in tests like PET scans. They work in hospitals as well as diagnostic centres.
Medical imaging technology has emerged as one of the key features of the medical system. Medical imaging has improved the healthcare system by leaps and bounds, enhancing patient care, shortening treatment time and offering doctors ways to diagnose patients through non-invasive methods.
What is the role of medical imaging technology?
Medical imaging provides physicians with valuable images to diagnose and treat patients better.
What are the 3 main imaging technologies?
The three main imaging technologies are X-rays, CT scans and MRI.
What is the difference between medical radiology and imaging technology?
Radiology is a division of medicine associated with using radiant energy for diagnosis and treatment. Medical imaging involves taking images of the human body for clinical analysis.