Health Matters Blog

Imaging is Everything

by Marcy Rushford

Radiologic technologists celebrate their profession each year during the week that includes November 8, the day that German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen discovered the x-ray in 1895. While 116 years may seem like a long time, radiologic medicine is still a very young field. Even the most venerable members of our radiology department have been eyewitnesses to its most dramatic innovations and how it has advanced care both in general and at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

The radiologic technology field has evolved into a lot of different sub-specialties. At the same time it has increased its role in health care beyond one solely of providing a diagnosis. X-ray, ultrasound and MRI enable physicians to perform minimally invasive procedures with greater effectiveness. Each technology is important for presenting a different point of view to the radiologist, which allows us to better work with other care providers in planning next steps.

The field has expanded so much that it includes technologies like ultrasound, which use sound waves instead of radiation, yet it’s part of the department because it performs the same task of medical imaging. In other areas we use diagnostic tools that don’t involve getting a visual image at all. In cardiology for example, electrocardiography (EKG) testing and Holter monitors let us record the heart’s electrical signals.

One of the biggest technological jumps forward was the advent of computed tomography. CT scans, as they are commonly known, have only been around for about 40 years. The way it works is best compared to slicing a loaf of bread. A CT scan produces images in slices so we can look at a cross-section of what’s inside or reconstruct it to give us a different look. Performing a CT scan of a wrist injury enables us to strip away skin and blood vessels and then make a three or four-dimensional reconstruction of the injured area. Doctors have been able to perform surgeries with greater precision as CT scan technology improves in speed and quality.

Today, some of the most exciting advances in medical diagnoses are taking place in Radiology. For example, Nuclear Medicine has evolved to better evaluate the function of the body. It requires a “radiopharmaceutical” that targets an organ by injecting a small amount of liquid into the bloodstream. A hybrid gamma SPECT/CT scanner then takes an image of the area. The injection material emits a low-level radiation exposure equivalent to what a person would receive during a transcontinental flight from the east coast to the west coast.

By looking at the function of an organ or muscle rather than the structure, nuclear medicine provides information about the function of most organs in the body, including the brain, thyroid, gallbladder, liver, and lymphatic system. Bone scans performed on athletes can evaluate hidden stress fractures that might not be visible on an x-ray. Physicians use it to stage metastatic disease for cancer patients, or to evaluate diabetics for osteomyelitis infections that lead to amputation. Cardiology tests evaluate the function of the heart muscle during exercise and at rest with nuclear medicine.

Here at BMH, cardiologists and radiologists review the study in tandem to assess for abnormalities — a collaboration that is unique in New England and ensures patients have the best possible professional interpretation. In addition, BMH’s nuclear medicine and MRI units have the American College of Radiology Gold Seal of Approval, an accreditation awarded only to those facilities that undergo a peer-review evaluation and meet the highest level of image quality and patient safety.

Of course, the traditional x-ray isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Its ease of use and versatility are essential to an emergency department. It’s a great tool for determining what, if anything, a patient needs next.

We’re encouraging children to bring stuffed animals or toys to our National Radiologic Technology Week open house event next Friday afternoon in the Richards Building at 1:00pm, on the ground floor. We’ll teach them more about how the technology works by taking an x-ray of the toy, which they can take home with them. We’ll also be talking about our department’s capabilities with other imaging technology, including CT, MRI and nuclear medicine, and honoring the 40 staff members here who perform more than 45,000 procedures annually at BMH. We hope you can join us.

Marcy Rushford, CRA, MBA, RDMS, RT(R,M) is the Director of the Radiology and Cardiology Unit at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. She is one of less than 700 radiology administrators in the U.S. to have passed the Certified Radiology Administrator (CRA) exam, which measures skills and expertise in medical imaging management.