Deep Roots: The History of Medical Imaging


Tree Roots

Editor’s Note: This post was first published in November 2009 and has been updated to reflect advancements in the field of medical imaging. 

How well do you know the history of medical imaging?

Some days we may take for granted our enterprise medical imaging systems, with their mobile technology, EHR integration, automated peer review processes and other workflow facilitators helping to keep our team’s workday efficient and going smoothly. But advanced medical imaging technology wasn’t perfected overnight—or even over the course of several years. It took decades.

More than 45 years ago, early digital radiology pioneers began paving the road to picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) radiology, according to an Imaging Economics article.

Let’s look back on the history of medical imaging, where it is today and where it’s heading.

Early 1970s: At the University of Arizona, Dr. M. Paul Capp and Sol Nudelman, PhD, organize a digital imaging group that works to develop the first digital subtraction angiography (DSA) device—the first clinical application of digitally derived images.

Mid 1970s: Professor Jean-Raoul Scherrer pioneers a medical information display system at the Geneva University Hospitals in Switzerland, which would have broad implications for later PACS development. The system, called DIOGENE, collects and displays patient information on computer monitors. A bank of telephone operators would type in information that would show up on the screens.

1976: The University of Arizona medical imaging group unveils its digital imaging device. A French company provides backing to build a commercial prototype, which takes another two to three years.

1979: Professor Heinz Lemke, PhD, at the Technical University of Berlin publishes a paper on applied image processing and computer graphic methods in a study of head CT scans. In that paper, he describes a modern PACS, with components including an interface to a hospital information system.

1982: Dr. Andre Duerinckx and Samuel J. Dwyer III, PhD, organize a landmark PACS conference in Los Angeles, which is attended by more than 400 radiologists, researchers and vendors. Among the topics discussed is the idea of linking all of the modalities into a single digital imaging network.

1982-1983: At the University of Kansas, Dwyer oversees what may have been the construction of the first PACS. The system includes CT, ultrasound and a film digitizer for plain film. The workstations are slow and low resolution, but they have the ability to acquire, transmit and archive.

1989-1990: At UCLA, H.K. “Bernie” Huang forms a medical imaging division under the radiology sciences department to look into PACS. The team creates and deploys a PACS in pediatric radiology that is based on the use of CR plates to digitize images. A computer board decodes the digital information on the CR tapes, which allows X-rays to be displayed on the PACS monitors.

Early to Mid-1990s: Manufacturers work diligently to develop commercial PACS hardware and software.

2000s: PACS improve workflow and productivity within and between radiology and cardiac departments and eliminate communication barriers between departments and facilities. Modern systems provide enterprise access and utilization tools that are the backbone of the imaging department. Hospitals seamlessly integrate digital mammography and Radiology Information Systems (RIS) into their PACS.

Today: Enterprise medical imaging systems continue to benefit from faster processors, higher storage capacities, 3D capabilities, monitors with higher resolution for better viewing clarity and faster network speeds. Vendor neutral archives allow healthcare organizations to store imaging data in a centralized, accessible way that’s agnostic to database, operating system, image generating device and infrastructure. Mobile technology continues to expand, offering your radiologists full scale diagnostic enterprise medical imaging access anywhere with the ability to read from home as if they’re in the office.

Future: Researchers at Stanford are conducting work on diagnostic imaging as it correlates to molecular genetics. In addition, various technologies are being found to better treat diseases, such as by using quantitative computed tomography based texture analysis (QTA) to determine whether lung cancer patients’ tumors have a cancer-causing gene mutation.

Other work being done that will affect the future of medical imaging includes real-time analytics that will drive protocols. Automatic real-time global image reference libraries will make it possible for virtual, real-time consults to take place.

Medical imaging advances are helping to improve patient care, reduce staff frustration and improve employee workflow. With all the possibilities for future developments in the field, healthcare professionals can look with anticipation to the years to come.

What do you see next for medical imaging? Leave us your comment below.

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