CVC 2008 Highlights: What to consider when considering digital radiography

The time is nearing when you'll likely need to make the leap to digital radiography. Here's what you'll want to know to make a smart purchase.
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Dec 01, 2008


Victor T. Rendano Jr., VMD, MSc, DACVR, DACVR-RO
We are in the digital age! Demand for conventional processors and film-screen radiographic equipment is decreasing. There are fewer small wet-chemical processor manufacturers, and the number of people who repair these processors is decreasing. In addition, radiographic film, which used to be a premier business for major U.S. companies, is now mostly imported. The processing chemicals used in traditional radiography are now being regarded as toxic waste; more regulations are being placed on their disposal, which will increase purchase and disposal costs and, thus, decrease demand.

GOING DIGITAL: THE PROS AND CONS

It is fortunate that digital radiography has several advantages over traditional radiography:

  • Unlike traditional radiography, which takes a lot more time to process an image, with direct (DR/CCD), or cassetteless, digital radiography, we can see the image on a monitor in seconds.
  • With digital radiography, we are able to manipulate the image electronically to help improve its quality if it is not pristine. So if you obtain poor-quality radiographs with traditional radiography, you will likely love digital radiography. If you obtain good-quality radiographs now, you will probably like digital radiography. If you already obtain perfect radiographs by using the traditional method, you may not like digital since the best-resolution images are still produced with traditional radiography. However, the exposure latitude (ability to produce a diagnostic radiograph over a much broader range of exposures) is greater with digital radiography than with traditional radiography. Thus, you will likely have fewer retakes because of underexposure or overexposure. Also, even though you give up a little in resolution compared with traditional radiography, it is typically overcome by improved contrast resolution and the ability to see the image immediately after it is taken.
  • Digital radiography does not require a dark room—or wet-chemical processors, film storage bins, or radiographic viewers.
  • With digital radiography, when you want a second opinion, you can send the radiographic study quickly and directly to your peers or to a specialist rather than waiting on the postal service or laboratory courier to deliver it.
  • Digital radiography has transformed the imaging capabilities of mobile practitioners because some digital systems provide images in the field within seconds.

The disadvantages of digital radiography are the equipment's initial expense and its relatively rapid loss of value because of ever-improving technology, and the time involved in learning how to use the new equipment.

IS NOW THE RIGHT TIME?

Some practitioners are hesitant to transition to digital radiography because the technology is always changing and they do not want to invest in equipment that may soon be obsolete. Similar to the trend with digital cameras and computers, digital radiographic imaging equipment has gotten better and less expensive. Digital radiographic equipment purchased five years ago for $120,000 has been replaced with better technology that costs $75,000—i.e. more for less! But there is going to be a point at which you have to get into it, and we are at that point.

Some questions to ask yourself before you decide to switch: Will digital radiography make my life easier? Can I keep my current radiographic unit and retrofit the system for digital radiography, or do I need to buy new x-ray generating equipment plus a digital detector? How many computer work stations and monitors will I need? Can I afford digital radiography?

If you are considering retrofitting your x-ray generating equipment, it is important to make sure the equipment is functioning properly and will meet the performance demands required by the digital detector system. If your equipment is on its last leg and you marry it to a new piece of equipment, you may burn out the x-ray tube or have other problems. In addition, if the marriage doesn't work correctly for any reason, it may be harder to have one company take responsibility for the problem. If you buy a new unit (x-ray generating equipment, digital detector, computers, software, etc.) from one company, that company is obligated to resolve any problems during the warranty period.