By Jorge Quant

Radiology, much like the world, is in a state of flux. Industry leaders are keeping an eye on several factors that could influence healthcare as providers seek better outcomes for their patients. Three important trends are coming into focus—changing demographics, the rise of chronic disease, and patient empowerment and advocacy—as healthcare continues its evolution into digital medicine and the use of technology.

From the rising numbers of older patients and the increase in ailments such as heart disease and cancer, to patients playing a bigger role in their own care, healthcare and radiology, in particular, need to make intelligent decisions to tackle future challenges.

Trend #1: Changing Demographics

The older population and life expectancy are expanding. At the same time, the global population of young people is declining. In fact, those in the age group of 65 and older, for the first time in history, form the fastest-growing age group on the planet. As people grow older, they require more healthcare services—such as diagnosis and treatment of orthopedic conditions and injuries. As a result, demand for imaging studies is bound to rise.

It won’t be just a demand for a greater volume of studies—it will be a greater volume of studies over a longer period of years. Clearly, this will require a vast expansion of healthcare infrastructure and financing that will have to be provided by a declining population of younger and middle-aged people.

Access to resources—including trained radiologists and radiographers, well-equipped hospitals and diagnostic imaging facilities—is going to be strained; there are already unmistakable signs of this. As governments worldwide seek to provide universal coverage with less funding from that shrinking younger, productive population, they will likely shift the pressure to healthcare providers—who will have to find ways to do even more with less.

At Carestream, our ongoing mission is to develop a portfolio of diagnostic imaging solutions that provide healthcare professionals with advanced capabilities that help them improve patient care. For example, Carestream’s DRX Compass X-ray Room—now with a floor-mount option—is an economical, yet powerful, feature-rich system designed to grow and adapt to a provider’s changing needs as they evolve. This system helps minimize technology obsolescence and protects their investment over time.

Trend #2: The Rise of Chronic Disease

Experts expect chronic diseases to accelerate in the coming years. It will become challenging for healthcare systems to bear the heavy economic burden of this projected rise. The first strategic solution is to find ways to reverse the trend. Healthcare institutions and governments are realizing that there is a much bigger, long-term benefit in shifting from managing disease to preventing disease.

In radiology, we need to move from imaging to diagnose disease, to imaging to help prevent it. Also, because patients with chronic disease require frequent and regular exams over time, we must find ways to minimize the lifetime dosage these patients receive.

Fortunately, Carestream technologies such as digital tomosynthesis (DT) and the long-length DRX-L Detector help provide care for these patients with greater dose efficiency, yet with no sacrifice in image quality. Specifically, the DRX-L Detector significantly reduces exam time and dose for spinal or long-bone studies by acquiring long-length images in a single shot.

DT can generate data from a series of low-dose X-ray images of the same area of interest, with the exposure taken from different angles. Therefore, radiographers can acquire high-quality 3D images faster—which means they can complete more exams in less time—and at a much lower dose than that required by standard CT.

Trend #3: Patients’ Expanding Role in Their Own Care

Telehealth expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many patients use digital technology to communicate with their physicians from their homes, and this approach continues to be crucial as the world moves forward. As wearable, mobile, and home medical-device technologies continue to evolve, more patients will be able to participate in their own care.

Innovators in medical imaging can alleviate the pressure of these trends by developing intuitive solutions. Enabling healthcare facilities to upgrade to the latest technologies cost-effectively will be key. For example, offering advanced software features powered by artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and advanced algorithms can help improve productivity in radiology departments by streamlining workflow, reducing waste, and improving patient throughput.

Carestream’s ImageView software and Eclipse image-processing platform go well beyond image processing, with new capabilities—many of them AI-powered—to provide imaging intelligence, workflow efficiency, and healthcare analytics.

In conclusion, advanced medical imaging systems will offer innovative ways to face the operational and workflow challenges of today and tomorrow—while continuing to improve diagnostic precision and confidence.

Jorge Quant is global marketing director at Carestream Health.