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Future of Imaging February 2019

Imaging: the transformation of healthcare

The world of imaging is growing exponentially and this will have a huge impact on both service providers and patients.


Dr Jane Phillips-Hughes

President, The British Institute of Radiology and Consultant Interventional Radiologist, Oxford University Hospitals

This year we will commemorate the centenary of the birth of Godfrey Hounsfield, founder of the CT scanner. His discovery in 1972 changed the landscape of imaging and had a major impact on medicine in the second half of the 20thcentury just as the discovery of the X-ray by Röentgen did in 1895. Since then the world of imaging has grown exponentially. Today, it is routine practice for a medical condition to require a diagnostic scan, image guided intervention or therapy.

AI algorithms will improve efficiency and reduce errors

In this era of rapid change, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and personalised medicine are becoming more commonplace and soon will have a major impact on day-to-day practice. By integrating AI algorithms, we will be able to optimise and prioritise our workflows. This will, in turn, improve efficiency, will reduce some errors and significantly improve patient care. Crucially, AI tools will augment and enhance rather than replace a radiologist’s capabilities. However, much is still in development.  

Between 2012 and 2017 the workload of radiologists has increased by 30% but the number of consultant radiologists has only gone up by 15% in that time.

As imaging technology advances, its uses multiply. As an interventional radiologist I have seen huge changes in the service we provide. Using minimally-invasive, image-guided techniques we treat a vast range of conditions in both the emergency setting (such as haemorrhage, sepsis and stroke) as well as treatments for cancer and other long-term conditions, often avoiding the need for more invasive surgical operations. 

Molecular imaging is transforming personalised imaging

Hybrid imaging, a fusion of different modalities such as PET and SPECT/CT and PET/MRI, combine physiological and anatomical information. The growing field of molecular imaging will bring another step change with the delivery of personalised medicine. 

But with these advances come inevitable challenges. Machine learning uses ‘big data’ collection, so requires sound governance. It is important to introduce more standardisation to systems with the vast range of equipment and protocols that vary from one hospital and manufacturer to another.

Healthcare must keep pace with our growing, aging population

As the demand for more scans grows, and the population lives longer and has higher expectations, the healthcare workforce must keep pace. Between 2012 and 2017 the workload of radiologists has increased by 30% but the number of consultant radiologists has only gone up by 15% in that time.  Imaging also requires radiographers, sonographers and clinical scientists – all of whom are in short supply. We need to ensure we are equipped to train new recruits to these professions and to keep up with increasing demand. Equally, manufacturers are developing more efficient machines, but advances must be optimised, and funding is needed to replace out-of-date equipment.

In spite of these challenges, the future of radiology looks exciting. With the fusion of healthcare IT, and advances in equipment the quality of imaging and treatment is improving dramatically.  Radiologists, radiographers and clinical scientists working together as a team leads to better outcomes. As I meet these professionals in the UK and beyond, I am struck by the creativity and enthusiasm of the workforce who are prepared to look at innovative ways to deliver the best service to our patients. Hounsfield would certainly be proud of that. 

February 2019

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