Digital radiography refers to imaging modalities that obtain a digital radiographic image without using film. This technology is gaining popularity in veterinary medicine because it offers several advantages over traditional film-based radiography, including improved imaging latitude, fewer retakes, access to teleradiology, and improved patient care through better image quality.
Digital radiography, however, is not a panacea; its benefits are often overstated, creating unrealistic expectations for veterinarians considering the move to this technology. A clear understanding of the benefits of digital radiography is essential to determining whether it is right for your practice. Ultimately, the benefits that digital radiography will bring to a practice will vary depending on your practice type, the system you purchase, your practice's current radiographic quality, and the initial cost of the system.
Matt Wright, DVM, DACVR
BENEFITS FOR ALL
Some of digital radiography's benefits are universal, regardless of the digital radiography system you purchase or your practice's size.
The sensors used in digital radiography systems have greater exposure latitude than film does.1
Exposure latitude can be thought of as the forgiveness of the system to errors of technique. In many cases, if a digital image is initially too dark, it can be computer-enhanced to produce a diagnostic image. So digital radiography will decrease (but not eliminate) the number of retakes needed because of exposure errors.2
Digital radiography systems vary widely in their exposure latitude. Some systems are technique-dependent and leave little room for error, while other systems are more technique-independent and leave a large margin for error when the operator selects exposure settings. A system with a wide exposure latitude will generate high-quality images more consistently than a system that is less forgiving. Thus, be sure to consider the consistency of image quality when purchasing a digital radiography system. And keep in mind that digital radiography will not decrease the number of retakes needed because of patient positioning errors.
An Overview of Digital Radiography's Benefits
Teleradiology has decreased the time and distance barriers that previously hampered referring radiographs for a second opinion. In the past, mailing films to a radiologist meant a radiograph report turnaround of at least a few days. With teleradiology, report turnaround is measured in hours and even minutes. Access to teleradiology is greatly enhanced by ensuring that your system can send Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) images to a remote DICOM server (see the article "An introduction to DICOM" ).
Many veterinary radiologists now require images in DICOM format for review. These images are unaltered before sending, and they contain useful information such as the patient's name, the date and time of acquisition, and other important identifying information. DICOM files are large, so a high-speed Internet connection with a fast upload speed is generally necessary for efficient teleradiology.