Digital imaging technology plays a major role in contemporary health care, both as a tool in primary diagnosis and as a guide for surgical and therapeutic procedures. Besides gains over analog techniques concerning the image acquisition phase, such as possibility of dose reduction with no over- or under-exposure problems, the main motivation behind digital imaging is to exploit the advantages of digital storage and communication technology.
Digital data can be easily archived, stored and retrieved quickly and reliably, used in more than one location at a time, do not suffer from aging and moreover are suited to image post-processing operations. One of the most important innovations not only in digital imaging technology, but in the medicine field as well, is the X-ray technology.
X-ray imaging was the first diagnostic imaging technology, and scholars claim that X-ray technology was invented accidentally in 1895. Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen was a professor of physics at the University of Wurzberg in Germany.
Digital Imaging History
He was doing experiments with a cathode ray tube when he noticed that a fluorescent screen on the other side of the room was glowing (Green and Bowie, 2004). Because Roentgen knew that the cathode rays could travel only a short distance outside the cathode tube in the air, he knew he was observing a new phenomenon, an unknown ray, which he identified as an “x” ray, noting the unknown in mathematics.
This accidental discovery by Roentgen has impacted most human beings in the course of their lives. For the health care sector, this discovery has led to more effective diagnostics, X-ray technology gave physicians a powerful too, that for the first time, permitted accurate diagnosis of a wide variety of diseases and injuries.
X-ray is a form of electromagnetic radiation capable of penetrating solids. The penetration capability is higher in soft tissue than in hard and this difference can be registered on photographic film.
This basic method of X-ray was quite sufficient for the examination of broken bones or punctured lungs, but the use of X-ray as a diagnostic instrument was increased by replacing the photographic film with a light sensitive electronic device combined with a capability for amplifying the signals. Initially, x-rays were used to diagnose bone fractures and dislocations, and in the process, x-ray machines became commonplace in most urban hospitals.
Separate departments of radiology were established, and their influence spread to other departments throughout the hospital. By the 1930s, x-ray visualization of practically all organ systems of the body had been made possible through the use of barium salts and a wide variety of radiopaque materials (Green and Bowie, 2004).
Through this development, it became possible to convert the X-ray beam to analog electronic signals, which could be presented on a television screen. In many respects the technology of image amplifying resembled television technology. By employing electronics it became possible to decrease the energy in the X-ray beam and thus to reduce the exposure to radiation.
The shift to electronic technology increased the possibilities for discriminating between different levels of penetration and it also made possible to examine moving parts. The energy required by the electromagnetic radiation was also reduced by the development of new, more light-sensitive photographic film.
Issues in Information Technology for Health Care
In the pre-information technology, the management of patient records in health care organizations was based largely on manual file processing systems. Over time, these practices became standardized in the form of patient registers, medical service claims, work orders, patient billing files, and books of accounts.
The manual system required health record technicians and specialists who were well trained in maintaining paper-based records, while others (e.g., physicians and nurses) delivered the services. The health manager’s role was simply to enforce documentation to conform to evolving standards, such as acceptable data coding, accounting principles, and book practices. In effect, the manual system of documentation dictated the traditional structure of the health care organization.
Patient records are maintained by the records department of a health care institution, and the quality of a patient record depends largely on the individuals making record entries. All healthcare practitioners and others who enter information into patient records must understand the importance of creating complete and accurate records, as well as the legal and medical implications of failing to do so.
The increased emphasis on fraud and abuse prevention in the healthcare industry has further highlighted the importance of proper medical records. Today, concern about privacy and confidentiality is increasing. To some degree, this concern is fueled by the growth of electronic medical records and databases that allow the exchange of information to more people, at great distances, with little effort.