Medical imaging has come a long way since it competed for notice and respectability amid a galaxy of patent medicines, homeopathic remedies, and galvanic girdles. The hundreds of exhibits and thousands of attendees at RSNA 2001 were clear evidence why the medical hucksters with their snake oil were doomed from the outset. With a flick of a switch or the push of a button, the human body-that most familiar yet most mysterious of all objects-is more accessible than ever before, thanks to radiology. It is no overstatement to echo the first radiology salesmen in characterizing today’s imaging equipment as “wonderful.” That is what this equipment is in the literal, dictionary sense; astonishing, marvelous. As we enter radiology’s second century and see the array of cutting-edge CT, MR, x-ray, positron emission tomography (PET) and fusion technology available to the practitioner, radiology seems to have hardly scratched the surface of the wonders it can deliver.
But all of these devices with their ability to lay bare the inner workings of the body are secondary to the practice of radiology. The primary element of radiology-in fact, all medical specialties-is the practitioners. What are listed on the following pages are the tools of the trade, tools more sophisticated? than hammers and screwdrivers, but tools all the same. The x-ray, CT, MRI, and PET are the means to a diagnosis, not the end.
The truth of radiology is that the end is not found in studies that the newest digital wonder displays on a flat LCD screen as a real-time movie. The meaning is found in the skill of the tool user, in the experienced eyes of the radiologist. Though the tools gave birth to the profession, it is humanity that gives radiology its value. In the earliest days of radiology, the days when patent medicines and the X-ray vied for the medical world’s (and the public’s) imagination, there was a question as to who would be responsible for taking and interpreting films-electricians, photographers, or physicians. The fact that the interpretation fell to the physician and not the technician is significant because it established technology as the servant, not the master of radiology. And that is a perspective trade shows, like that of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), reinforce. In spite of its impressive show of technology and sophisticated presentations, it is humanity-the customers, the users-that is as important to the practice as high throughput and small footprints.
This point was illustrated during a dinner I attended at the RSNA with Decisions in Axis Imaging News’ editorial advisory board members, one of whom praised the new picture archiving and communications system he was using. He was unabashed in his praise because it did exactly what good technology has done since the discovery of fire-it has made his life better. Technology is not an end in itself, but the means to an end-better medicine. By necessity, this is the measure of all the technology in the following pages: how will it help make you do your job better? n
Chris Wolski is Associate Editor for Axis Imaging News.