Medical imaging is an integral part of the diagnostic process. From ultrasounds to MRIs to CT scans, radiologists need and use medical imaging to properly diagnose and treat diseases. Doctors also use medical imaging technologies to determine whether a particular therapy has been effective in patients.
Over the past couple of decades, the capabilities of medical imaging have radially increased. Due to essential research and technological evolution, there have been numerous advancements in medical imaging technology. This progress is crucial in providing more accurate diagnoses and bettering patient care. Combing these advancements with the power of IT and digital growth also promotes greater procedural efficiency in the provision and execution of patient care. From the use of big data in medical imaging to the possibilities of 3D imaging, here are four major advancements that showcase the future of medical imaging technology:
Open and Portable MRIs
Anyone who has had an MRI knows that it isn’t the most pleasant of experiences. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses a “large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to create a detailed, cross-sectional image of internal organs and structures.” Generally, the machines consist of a long tube with a table inside for the patient to lie on. Traditional MRIs have caused much anxiety in patients, especially for those with claustrophobia. The whirring noises paired with the feeling of being trapped isn’t one anyone would willingly endure. Today, there are open MRI machines — they are less restrictive and more open on the sides. Unlike older machines, newer scanners can even accommodate heavier individuals without difficulty.
To take things one step further, researchers at Japan’s Railway Technical Research Institute have developed a superconducting magnet system that fits into the palm of a hand. Traditionally, MRI machines are large and stationary due to the size of the superconducting magnet. With these compact yet powerful new magnets, medical imaging via MRIs could become portable and mobile. These are major milestones in medical imaging, allowing for more inclusive and efficient diagnoses, while also reducing the stress level in patients.
Big Data and Analytics
Big data analytics is revolutionizing healthcare in general, so it’s no surprise that there is much to look forward to in the future of analytics in medical imaging. According to experts at the University of Cincinnati, “the continuous development of big data and data mining will provide radiologic professionals with real-time data during the imaging process,” which in turn leads to fewer errors and more personalized care. For example, analytics are often used to detect patterns specific to a certain pathology. Imaging algorithms can derive metrics using intensive analysis of these patterns in a digital image, and then deliver scores that complement any analyses made by the radiologist, resulting in quicker, customized, and more accurate diagnoses.
In an article on ITN, Dhaval Shah and Prashanth Kollaikal of CitiusTech discuss the promising potential of big data in diagnostic imaging. “We can look forward to new and interesting features in the radiology information system (RIS) and PACS systems, especially those in the cloud, which might include analytics and impressive reports on operational and clinical data,” states Shah. Enterprise-wide key performance indicators (KPIs) derive from a variety of existing sources. Then, these KPIs are used to suit the needs of the provider, taking clinical efficiency, operational efficiency, and patient comfort into consideration. Even though these KPIs have been used for optimization for many years now, overall efficiency can be easily measured and greatly improved with the technological aptitude of devices, increased modalities, advanced software systems and mobile devices.
The use of 3D (and potentially even 4D) technologies in diagnostic radiology has the ability to create better images, for powerful results. Though ultrasounds are very popular in the medical field, they are limited by the inability to obtain high-resolution, detailed images. Using 3D technology, it is possible to improve ultrasound resolution, and enhance patient care. In fact, scientists at University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), and the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (Spain) have been studying the effects in introducing 3D metamaterial to achieve deep-subwavelength imaging. Initial results suggest that ultrasound resolution can be enhanced by a factor of 50 — a mighty improvement.
Experts at CareStream Health, a leader in digital medical solution and IT infrastructure for healthcare, have also been exploring 3D capabilities in imaging, specifically in CT scans. The software in their OnSight 3D Extremity System “increases the increases the contrast of soft tissue, and reduces the visibility of metal artifacts compared to traditional CT images.” These improvements enable sharp 3D construction, and together, lead to a better understanding of patient health.
Digital mammography has revolutionized breast cancer screenings. Compared to traditional techniques, digital mammography provides a much greater level of detail, and can generate the same result as conventional mammograms without using film and X-rays. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, “digital mammograms are more efficient than traditional ones, especially when it comes to women with thick breast tissues, women nearing the menopausal age, premenopausal women, and those below 50 years.”
Also known as digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), a series of images are generated along the breast. Rather than combining two projections of images, radiologists can view each tissue independently, dramatically improving the lesion visibility and thus the ability to detect cancer early. This results in a lower number of errors and recalls. Finally, the combination of digital mammography with ultrasound and MRI techniques improves diagnostic accuracy; pushing to remove radiation from mammography with compromising image quality.
While medical imaging has advanced exponentially over the last couple of decades, there is still a long way to go. One of the threats to these developments in medical device manufacturing is ionic contamination. Contamination poses a serious obstacle to medical device advancement, and can hamper results and diagnoses, rendering them useless. It is up to the pioneers in digital medical solutions to take the appropriate measures to prevent medical device contamination. With the relevant regulations in place, the future of medical imaging can be transformed, enabling for these solutions to be freely available for all to benefit from.