As technology continues to progress, radiology and medical imaging are aspects of the healthcare world that are primed for evolution. But this type of advancement is not made without first recognizing, and learning from, radiology’s extensive history.
Radiology has come a long way from its roots with the invention of the X-ray in the 1800s. Advances in diagnostics, inventions such as the CT scanner, and other medical developments have driven the industry to great heights, while always leaving room to grow.
To discover how radiology has evolved, we must take an initial dive into its history. How did this medical sector get its start? What factors contributed to its success? The answers to these questions and more are all waiting for you below.
The X-Ray: A Revolutionary Invention
Radiology is an industry that’s been making its mark on the medical world for over a century.
- As mentioned above, radiology’s beginnings revolved around the invention of the X-ray in 1895, which is most often credited to Wilhelm Röntgen, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and medical engineer.
- Leading up to this new invention, Röntgen had previously made strides with cathode rays, or negatively-charged electrons observed in vacuum tubes. This knowledge led him to a new type of ray whose nature was unknown; hence him choosing the name “X-ray.”
This new development sparked a lot of interest and shock in the general public. Hospitals began to acquire the equipment needed to produce X-rays and train doctors in their use, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that the use of X-rays became more regulated.
Establishment of the Society of Radiographers
The Society of Radiographers (SoR) is a trade union that was established in 1920 with several objectives, one of which is to “promote, study and research work in radiography and radiotherapeutic technology and allied subjects.”
During the 1920s and 1930s this society, along with the American College of Radiology (ACR), made strides in the industry by developing detailed training courses and safety protocols.
It was during this time that doctors and radiographers began operating under the interest of both diagnosis and therapy for patients.
Imaging Developments from the 1950s and 1960s
In 1948, the National Health Service (NHS) was introduced, which united hospitals and doctors under one umbrella for the purpose of bringing healthcare to all.
- As a result, more thorough standards were introduced for X-ray procedures and training regimens, which helped spark a health campaign in the 1950s for tuberculosis.
- Dubbed the “Mass X-Ray Campaign,” this free screening for tuberculosis provided by NHS was promoted through radio, television, newspapers and more. This campaign resulted in about over 400 diagnoses of the disease.
Campaigns such as these helped spread the importance of this technology, and could be considered a contributing factor in motivating new radiology developments.
1950s: The Birth of Image Intensifiers
To enhance the technology provided by an X-ray, image intensifiers were built, which provided a brighter image that could be viewed in a microscope. This viewing format was eventually changed to be viewed on a monitor, or television camera tube, in 1958.
Image intensification changed the way X-rays were created because its introduction meant that professionals no longer had to wear red goggles to adapt their eyesight to the bright radiation and could see the images more clearly.
1960s: PET Scans and Thermography
Another image intensifier that was developed was positron emission tomography (PET) scanners. These scanners are medical instruments that use non-invasive methods to gather images of a patient’s brain.
- PET scanners were among the first devices to record various neurological patterns and were used to study brain functions.
- During the 1960s, there was also an interest in using thermal measurements, or the patterns of a body’s heat and blood flow, in imaging.
- Today, PET/CT utilizing advanced imaging isotopes is a vital tool in oncology for diagnosis, initial staging, and recurrence of tumors.
The First Records of CT Scanning
Computed tomography (CT) scanning was first introduced by British engineer Godfrey Hounsfield in 1972. This type of technology can show anatomic details of internal organs that cannot be seen in traditional X-rays.
By the 1980s, CT scanners became widely available to hospitals and clinics around the world. These initial scanners took hours to acquire raw data, compared to today’s scanners which take only seconds. As CT scanners have been updated over the years, they’ve provided improvements in speed, patient comfort, and image resolution.
A Shift in the Use of MRIs
MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, was first developed in the 1940s and was used for chemical and physical analysis. Then, in the 1970s, this shifted to studying diseases/diagnostics when physicist and inventor Raymond Damadian proved that nuclear magnetic relaxation times of tissues differed when they appeared in tumors.
This shift, combined with the advancement of CT scans, helped to shape MRI technology into what it is today. Although the first human to be scanned via an MRI machine didn’t occur until 1977, many developments have been made in the ensuing years to make the technology quicker and more patient-friendly.
The Rise of Teleradiology
Teleradiology, or the transmission of radiological images (e.g., CT scans, X-rays) to another location, is conducted to share insights and studies with other radiologists, doctors, and medical facilities.
Key benefits of teleradiology are that radiologists can provide patients with their services without having to physically be in the same location, and that professionals such as a neuroradiologists and pediatric radiologists can be available for readings 24/7.
ACR published its first standards for the teleradiology industry in 1994, which was a step forward for legitimizing its practice in the medical world. As a result, teleradiology saw a rise in the late 1990s and is reshaping radiology practices, even today.
What to Expect for the Future of Radiology
Imaging in the form of CT scans, X-rays, PET and MRI machines will remain a vital function in the healthcare industry, as the technology for diagnosing is more developed than ever. Patients now have access to their scans in seconds, on touchscreens, via their smartphones and computers.
From the humble beginnings of X-rays and CT scans that could take weeks to report on to today’s instant readings, the radiology industry has come a long way over the decades.
What do you see happening in the future for radiology and teleradiology? Let us know today!