Can Medical Imaging Survive the Next Decade?


Looking to the future of medical imaging

Medical imaging will be shaped by two major developments, according to Professor Audrey Paterson, The Society and College of Radiolographers’ Director of Professional Policy, who spoke at the United Kingdom Radiology Conference (UKRC 2013). She believes that the future of medical imaging is in molecular imaging and “theranostics” (the fusion of therapeutics and diagnostics).

Paterson, who is retiring after almost 40 years in medical imaging, warned delegates that amazing possibilities were ahead but, unless they were grasped enthusiastically, there was a danger that other health and medical practitioners will grab the opportunities that they represent.

Shifting Role of Medical Imaging

Emphasizing that personalized medicine will raise questions about the nature of the radiographer’s role, Paterson said that the medical imaging profession must look at the scope of practice and, most critically, provide new education and training challenges.

She reminded delegates that radiographers are already practicing SPECT, PET, MRI, CT and hybrid medical imaging, while also supporting patients at the interface of science, technology and medicine. She said the medical imaging profession is carrying out demanding, complex image acquisition: understanding what appears on the image and working as part of integrated healthcare teams, all within a specialized clinical focus.

Possible Revolutionary Developments

Paterson presented two scenarios: one, that new developments will be evolutionary, being applied at few centers, to a relatively small number of patients, meaning that treatment would be expensive. The alternative is revolutionary: rapid development leading to costs going down, fuelled by public demand.

She asked if radiographer education and training will be able to meet the new challenges. Is there sufficient current scientific knowledge? Is anatomical knowledge integrated with human physiology and biology? Do we understand system, organ and cellular functioning? How do we address education and training when current practice is so very different?

“Whatever happens,” she remarked, “the explosion in the growth of molecular imaging will lead to massive development and change ahead.”

“Radiographers are the ‘best fit’ to be the molecular imaging workforce but, to ensure that this happens, education and training must change, and start to change now,” Paterson concluded.

How do you see molecular imaging and theranostics altering the medical imaging landscape?

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