When doctors want to look inside

Doctors call on an assortment of technologies when they’re diagnosing medical problems. Here are some of the machines medical professionals rely on and what they do.

Sandra Seidal Healthy Living
Sandra Seidel
Healthy Living

Diagnostic imaging employs many different technologies to look inside one’s body. Diagnostic tests are an integral part of a patient’s care plan. Without these tests, physicians would not be able to accurately diagnose many medical problems.

Diagnostic imaging includes radiology, computed tomography, nuclear medicine, magnetic resonance imaging, angiography, mammography and ultrasound. All these technologies with the exception of magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound use some form of radiation. Imaging professionals are educated to ensure that the lowest dose possible is achieved during examinations.

Shows parts and systems

When you have to go for an x-ray, a radiological technologist will perform your exam. A medical radiation technologist uses x-rays to produce images of body parts and systems. They are expert in the use of complex medical equipment which compares normal and diseased tissue. Most MRTs have additional education and training to perform specialty examinations (that is, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, mammography, angiography, ultrasound).

ct scanIf your doctor has ordered a CT scan (CAT scan) for you, you may have to drink an “x-ray dye” that shows up on the scan and also get an injection of contrast. You are placed on a narrow table and put into the doughnut-shaped scanner. A CT scan produces detailed x-ray images of the body and displays them on a computer screen. These images are displayed as “slices” of the body.

Magnetic resonance images are “slices” of the body as well, but use radio waves and a strong magnet to produce the images. The equipment used looks similar to a CT scanner, but the process is much noisier than a CT because of the way the equipment functions. An MRI technologist is very knowledgeable in anatomy, physics, pathology and physiology. The technologists are experts in MRI safety and are well educated in patient-care skills, to help produce the best possible experience for the patient.

Show body in motion

Nuclear medicine scans are different from the other images created in diagnostic imaging. Most images created are of anatomy. With these scans, body part functioning is imaged in relation to a person’s anatomy. Nuclear medicine technologists are experts in radiation physics and also in the use and administration of radiopharmaceuticals (drugs containing radioactive material). They are as well skilled in quality assurance of radioactive materials to ensure that the patient is handled safely at all times.

If you need to have a nuclear medicine test, you may be injected with a radiopharmaceutical which will make you radioactive for a short time but does not pose a risk to others. You will lie on a table with a “camera” placed closely to you to take the images.

If you are a woman over 50 years of age then you would already have had a mammogram. Mammography is the study of breast disease with the use of x-rays. The goal of mammography is to detect breast cancer. Mammography can be used to screen for disease or it can be diagnostic once disease is found.

Mammographers are educated in the study of breast disease. Technologists will place the breast between two plates and give it a last squeeze or “tweak”. This can be unpleasant for a few seconds, but it is done to achieve the best image possible.

Angiography is the study of the vessels using an “x-ray dye” (contrast). You may have an artery that is clogged and the blood cannot get through it. You would go for an angiogram so the vessel could be viewed. The radiologist (a doctor of radiology) would then open up the vessel to ensure good blood flow again. The field of angiography has expanded into interventional procedures as well. This means you could have a stent or device put into a large vessel without having to go for surgery. Interventional procedures reduce recovery time for the patient.

Ultrasound is again different from other tests performed in diagnostic imaging. Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves instead of radiation to produce images. Ultrasound scans are performed by a sonographer, a technician who is well educated in the intricate equipment used for ultrasound. The sonographer will guide a probe over the area of your body that is to be examined. If you have had children, you probably had an ultrasound.

Patient participates

The medical radiological technology profession includes a diverse array of highly trained professionals representing these various technological-related disciplines in the healthcare field. Despite the technical nature of a technologist’s job, a large part is patient focused and requires an effort by both parties to achieve the best experience. The professionals in diagnostic imaging are well educated in anatomy, physics, safety, quality assurance, and the various aspects of patient care pertaining to the particular exam.

Since the MRI scanner is a large magnet, it is important that all metal objects are removed from one’s person prior to the scan to prevent injury to either the patient or the technologist. It is also important that the patient hold very still throughout the exam so that the images are sharp.

As you can see, we are not “button pushers” but well educated professionals providing physicians with “a look inside” to support a patient’s course of treatment.

Sandra Seidel is a clinical instructor of diagnostic imaging at Victoria General Hospital. To support patient care at the Vic, please contact Victoria General Hospital Foundation at 204-477-3513 or online at www.thevicfoundation.ca.

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