Q. What are radiologists and what are some of the latest advances in the field of radiology?
A. By Ira Smalberg, M.D., Director of Radiology at Saint John’s Health Center.
Radiologists are medical doctors who specialize in using medical imaging techniques to diagnose and treat diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and trauma. Today’s imaging equipment is of a higher resolution than ever before, enabling radiologists to detect conditions with more confidence and accuracy than previously possible.
The subspecialty field of interventional radiology performs numerous imaging-guided minimally invasive procedures, such as angiograms, CT-guided or ultrasound-guided biopsies of masses, aspirations of abscesses, and radiofrequency ablation of cancers. With these minimally invasive imaging-guided techniques, there is less pain and discomfort for the patient and recovery times are shortened, when compared to open, more invasive procedures.
Today, all imaging examinations–including CT scans, MR scans, ultrasound, and x-rays–are all stored on computers. Both the Saint John’s Health Center Department of Imaging and Tower Saint John’s Imaging, a state-of-the-art outpatient office on Wilshire Boulevard and 22nd street, are now completely digital and essentially paperless. Rather than storing or carrying around x-rays in “jackets,” x-rays are now on stored and viewed from anywhere using computers, known as Picture Archiving and Communicating Systems. Referring physicians can view the imaging examinations in their office, hospital, or home through a secure password-protected web-based connection. If referring physicians or patients need copies of an imaging examination, they are typically now given the studies on CD-ROMs.
Another major advance in radiology has been the advent of speech recognition software, which has dramatically reduced the turnaround times for our reports and enhanced referring physician service and patient care. Since its opening several years ago, Tower Saint John’s Imaging has used PowerScribe, a web-based speech recognition reporting solution. This program will be implemented at Saint John’s Health Center in the next few months, and allows our radiologists to dictate, self-edit, and sign a final report within seconds of viewing the imaging study.
Some patients are fearful of radiology because of the exposure to radiation, but, in reality, one is exposed to more radiation from the sun when flying cross country than from a chest x-ray. There are ways to minimize exposure to radiation, and radiologists modify our imaging techniques to do so as needed. And, wherever possible, and particularly with pediatric or pregnant patients, the non-radiation methods of imaging are first used. With any medical test, the risks and rewards of the tests must be considered and only medically necessary radiology tests should be performed.
Ira Smalberg, M.D. is a radiologist and Medical Director of Imaging at Saint John’s Health Center. For more information about Dr. Smalberg, Tower Saint John’s Imaging, and other Saint John’ Health Center services, please call (310) 829-8990 or visit the website at HYPERLINK “http://www.stjohns.org” www.stjohns.org. For a physician referral or a second opinion, please call 1-888-ASK-SJHC.