The future role of radiology
The future role of radiology
January 20, 2022 by eMedEvents

We live in a constantly changing world that increasingly challenges us every day. From moving cargo to sending information over the Internet, we've found ways to do the tasks we face more efficiently safely, no matter what the challenges may be. The most significant among the accomplishments we have made include research advancements and innovations in the field of medicine, with a specific emphasis on treatment mechanisms like radiology.

Radiology is the clinical practice of treating the human organs without piercing the skin; through radioactive energy, either as x- rays or other types of radiation, we can treat many chronic and acute diseases.

Radiology is one such important department in medical science history that contributed significantly to patient care. Together with pathology, it serves as a necessary diagnostic and therapeutic procedure for all the specialties they could not practice effectively. Hence, the service becomes an integral part of all hospitals, except for small hospitals and nursing homes. Radiology has expanded vastly in recent decades.

The term imaging now incorporates:

i.X-ray

ii. Sonography

iii. CT scan

iv. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

v.Digital subtraction angiography (DSA).

Both radio diagnosis and radiotherapy have advanced to the extent that one person can't master both these specialities, which have little in common with each other. In recent years, radiotherapy has become a highly specialized service necessitating expensive and sophisticated equipment. Such departments can only function in specialist centres because they need specially constructed buildings, expensive equipment, highly trained radiotherapists, surgeons, physicists, and technicians who have experience in cancer therapy and surgery.

Current status of Radiology:

Ever since the advent of x-rays in 1895, Radiology as a field of diagnosis and therapeutic appliance has come of ages. While CT scan came into being in the 1970s, MRI as a diagnostic technique emerged by the 1980s. Since then, there was no looking back as advancements like ultrasound techniques have enhanced the medical fraternity's ability to offer the best and most advanced patient care.

Radiology has been instrumental in offering more explicit images, a higher signal-to-noise ratio, unique sequences, less radiation, and much more. Therefore, radiology has always been driven by new technology that includes better and faster machines.

But what we are witnessing now in this first part of the 21st century is completely different, as radiology has gone from a simple imaging technique to an integral part of medicine.

Radiology evolving in the future:

Radiology occupies the central and pivotal part in hospitals, and its demand for trained radiologists is on the rise. There is virtually no medical specialty that operates without the assistance of the radiology department. There's an increasing demand for in-depth studies in radiology to extract important data, as it is useful in understanding tumors and offering critical care to patients suffering from acute and life-threatening diseases.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) estimates that 17.0 million cancers were diagnosed in 2018, and 9.5 million cancer deaths occurred. Due to population growth and ageing, the global burden of cancer is expected to reach 27.5 million new cases and 16.3 million deaths by 2040. Due to a few factors, such as a sedentary lifestyle, inactivity, unhealthy diet, and fewer births in economically transitioning countries, the burden will likely be even greater in the future.

For example, a developing country like China, with a strong presence of the middle class, has access to high-quality health care. Yet, there is an increasing demand for trained radiologists to provide efficient patient care. At this juncture, it is interesting to see emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are offering analytical inputs to meet emerging medical challenges.

Artificial intelligence & Radiologists working together in the future:

Although there are studies that claim the introduction of AI in radiology has caused a lot of unrest, stating that radiology is on its way out and that radiologists will no longer be in demand, there is no absolute truth in such statements. AI is like a navigation system in the car that helps the driver to notice traffic jams or alternate routes, but it does not occupy the driver's seat. It offersa support system. AI will not replace the radiologist; it will handle the many simple, repetitive tasks uninterrupted that radiologists currently have to spend their time on. And it would allow radiologists to free up more time for the things that matter, like being a true consultant to their colleagues in the hospital or inpatient/outpatient centres.

The bottom line:

Radiology as a field of research, therapeutic and diagnostic procedure is advancing beyond our ability to imagine. Therefore, an individual can't get complete command over the vast areas of radiology. Therefore, radiologists should restrict their focus in specializing a specific aspect of this field to advance medical research and patient care.

Radiologists need to additionally be clinicians and apprehend the medical features, natural history, and redress of the ailments they are requested to investigate. As a result, radiologists must sub-specialize to varying degrees depending on their working conditions to add value to the healthcare system. Radiologists must interact with interfacing with general practitioners and patients during the evenings and weekends to enhance their understanding of radiology. Many small and rural practices may benefit from teleradiology services. In addition, radiologists should be able to provide a comprehensive diagnostic and advisory service to patients prior to entering the secondary care system by managing the investigations of patients themselves. This will improve the efficiency of the referral process and the clinical effectiveness of the service.

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