By Bonnie Walker, allied health world contributing writer
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What is radiology technology?
Radiology technology involves the use of radiographic and other imaging techniques to see inside the human body for diagnostic, curative, and palliative purposes. It is an allied healthcare professional field that combines knowledge of the science of radiology with the practical skills needed to perform a range of diagnostic imaging techniques. In practice, radiology technology entails the production of images of the human body through radiographic means in order to diagnose and treat illness and injury. The imaging methods that fall under the umbrella of radiology technology include x-ray radiography (traditional x-rays), computed tomography (CT scans), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scans), positron emission tomography (PET scans), nuclear medicine, and ultrasound.
The images obtained through these various technological techniques may be used to diagnose illness or injury but also to guide and facilitate the performance of certain medical procedures such as those employing minimally invasive fiber-optic and laser-guided techniques. Radiographic films and other diagnostic images can also be used to detect and monitor changes in organs or entire body systems in patients over a protracted period of time. The practice of radiology technology also entails extensive interaction and communication with patients and hands-on operation of diagnostic imaging machines and other radiographic equipment.
What is the role of a radiology technologist?
Radiology technologists, also known as a radiologic technologists, may work under the supervision of physicians; usually radiologists. Radiology technologists properly position patients in diagnostic imaging machines and operate and manipulate the machinery to ensure that usable scans and films are produced. They may also be involved in assisting and supporting the radiologists who interpret and evaluate the images obtained through various diagnostic imaging techniques. Radiologic technologists have routine interaction with patients as they are often the ones administering crucial diagnostic imaging tests. As a result, it often falls to the radiology technologist to explain the procedure and its purpose to the patient and to answer the patient’s questions.
Many diagnostic imaging techniques involve the use of ionizing radiation in order to generate images of the human body. The improper handling of the radioactive materials used in the practice of radiologic technology can result in unhealthy, even dangerous exposure on the part of patients and medical staff. Accordingly, radiology technologists must be thoroughly acquainted with regulations concerning the safe use and storage of radioactive material and take on the responsibility of complying with these regulations. Radiology technologists may also be called upon to provide documentation and keep records concerning the storage and inventory of radioactive materials, the usage and maintenance of diagnostic imaging machines, and the particular set of diagnostic tests administered to each patient.
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Why is radiology technology indispensable to modern medicine?
The introduction of basic radiologic technology in the early twentieth century revolutionized the practice of medicine and the delivery of healthcare. X-rays and basic radiography allowed healthcare professionals to see structures within the body, especially bones, which had previously been hidden from view on an external examination. Before the discovery of the x-ray and the development of viable x-ray machines, healthcare practitioners had the choice of invasively cutting into the body to examine its structures or making educated guesses about what was occurring inside the body based on external evidence. Armed with the x-ray, healthcare professionals no longer have to play this frustrating guessing game with respect to what is going on inside the bodies of their patients. While basic radiography is most effective when visualizing the hard, bony tissues of the body, more advanced radiological techniques, such as CT and MRI scans, have facilitated the diagnosis and treatment of illness and injury to the soft tissues of the body, including the heart and brain. Ultrasound technology has become the favored means of monitoring pregnancy and fetal development because it employs sound waves instead of x-rays and does not expose the fetus to radiation while in the womb.
Radiography and other diagnostic imaging techniques enable the safe and effective visualization of the body’s internal structures. Advances in radiology technology have dramatically increased the accuracy of diagnosis of illness and injury. In addition to its diagnostic applications, radiology technology also figures prominently in the treatment of many medical conditions and injuries, especially cancer. Radiation is the preferred form of treatment for many kinds of cancer, and radiology technologists who specialize in radiation oncology administer these treatments to patients who present with certain types of tumors. In addition, various diagnostic imaging techniques play a crucial role in reducing the number of invasive surgical techniques through what is known as interventional radiology technology. Radiological techniques can help surgeons visualize the inside of the body without making incisions or taking other invasive approaches to treatment. This has enabled health care professionals to achieve results with minimally invasive procedures that formerly involved major surgery, which carries risks and often entails extensive recovery time and rehabilitation. Finally, radiology technology plays a crucial role in medical research, where it enables scientists to view the effects of such things as pharmaceutical agents, exercise regimens, and surgical procedures on human and animal subjects.
What is the history of radiology technology?
Radiology technology is a relatively new science. Radiological diagnostic techniques have been part of the medical arsenal for only about a century. Radiology and radiologic technology were born in 1895 when German scientist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen invented the first x-ray machine. The theoretical existence of x-rays was acknowledged prior to this because x-ray images and other effects of x-rays had been observed. However, Roentgen was the first to actually isolate the x-ray and systematically study its effect. Roentgen’s discovery was an accidental one that occurred while he was performing experiments to observe the effects of passing electric charges through various types of vacuum tubes. Roentgen used the newly discovered x-rays to create the first known purposefully taken x-ray picture—an image of his wife’s hand which clearly shows the structure of the bones of her fingers, as well as her gold wedding band. Roentgen’s discovery and his contribution toward the development of the first diagnostic x-ray equipment earned him the Nobel Prize for Physics. Roentgen’s Nobel Prize was the first awarded in physics, and one of the five Nobel Prizes to be granted at the first ever Nobel ceremony held in December 1901.
Roentgen truly wanted the world to benefit from his discovery and therefore refused to take out a patent on x-rays. Indeed, although the new form of electromagnetic radiation that he discovered is often referred to as “Roentgen Rays,” Roentgen preferred that it bear the name he originally gave it “x-ray” radiation, rather than his own name. Other scientists whose work contributed to the discovery of x-rays and the harnessing of these rays for use in diagnostic and therapeutic medical equipment and other applications include Nikolai Tesla, Ivan Pulyui, Heinrich Hertz, William Crookes, Hermann von Helmholtz, Johann Hittorf, Fernando Sanford, Philipp Lenard, Frank Austin, Russell Reynolds, and Thomas Alva Edison. However, it is Roentgen who is most often recognized as the father of modern diagnostic imaging technology.
The field of radiology technology has grown at an astounding rate since Roentgen’s discovery in 1895. Roentgen himself would no doubt be amazed at the technological and medical advances his x-rays had wrought. In the early decades of radiology technology, x-ray imaging, known as radiography, was the only type of diagnostic imaging available. In the 1930s, radiologists developed the technique of tomography, which enables radiology technologists to take successive radiologic photographs of incremental sections, or “slices,” of an organ or body. This new technique allowed diagnosticians to examine specific areas of the body in closer detail. The field of radiology technology took another major leap forward in the 1970s with the advent of computer science and related technological advances. In 1972, British scientist Sir Godfry Hounsfield developed computer (or computed) tomography imaging. Known in its early days as EMI scanning, computer tomography uses digital geometric processing to create three-dimensional images of the interiors of objects based on a series of two-dimensional x-ray photographs, all captured from around a single axis of rotation. Because of the fact that x-ray images used in computer tomography must all be taken from a single axis of rotation, the technology is also known as computed axial tomography and the testing procedures that employ this technology are popularly known as CT or CAT scans. Other advances in radiologic technology that occurred in the 1970s include the ultrasound, which does not use ionizing radiation at all, but instead uses high-frequency sound waves to generate images of soft tissues in the body.
More recently, the field of radiology technology has benefited from the introduction of the MRI, the PET scan, and nuclear medicine. The MRI—which stands for magnetic resonance imaging—technique uses magnetic fields to align the nuclei of the atoms within the body as well as radio frequency fields to alter their alignment. Through this process, the nuclei create a rotating magnetic field, which is then used to generate images. MRI scans provide very detailed visualizations of the internal structures of scanned areas when compared to earlier methods of diagnostic imaging, offering especially keen contrast between the various soft tissues of the body. Scans that use PET or positron emission tomography reconstructs images based on gamma rays emitted by a radio nuclide “tracer” substance that is injected or otherwise introduced into the patient’s body. PET scans are useful not only for visualizing structures within the body but for observing and evaluating processes that occur within the body over a period of time. PET technology has especially useful applications in the area of oncology, where it is often used to gauge the effectiveness of various cancer treatments. A PET scan is but one instance of nuclear medicine that uses the introduction and radioactive decay of radio pharmaceuticals to diagnose and treat illness and injury and monitor physiological processes within the body.
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Radiologic Technologist Schools
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