Jefferson Researcher Finds New Digital X-Ray Technology May Cut Costs And Improve Patient Care

November 28, 1997

A new digital X-ray technology being studied at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and to be unveiled next week, has the potential to replace the current film X-ray technology, while reducing health care costs and improving patient care, says Gary S. Shaber, M.D., research professor of Radiology, Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, and director, Division of General Diagnostic Radiology, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia.

Dr. Shaber has spent more than a year extensively studying the DirectRay digital radiography technology designed by Sterling Diagnostic Imaging of Newark, Del. DirectRay, which is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, will be formally unveiled Sunday, Nov. 30, at the 83rd Scientific Assembly and Annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America meeting (RSNA) in Chicago.

Dr. Shaber will also be presenting two major papers on the technology at the meeting on Sunday, Nov. 30 and Monday, Dec. 1.

Dr. Shaber, who has been the primary investigator of the technology, said the images produced by digital radiography are equivalent to those produced by film-based radiography. The technology has also been studied at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I think digital radiography has tremendous potential,” said Dr. Shaber. “In my opinion, it is the wave of the future.”

Currently, an estimated 70 percent of all diagnostic exams are performed using conventional film-based radiography because of its functionality and high image quality.

Film-based systems, however, can be indirect because fluorescent materials must first absorb the X-ray energy and convert it into light during the exposure process, Dr. Shaber explained. Then the light must be converted to electronic signals. During this second step, the emitted light scatters and can reduce the sharpness of the image.

With digital radiography technology, X-ray energy is captured and converted into electronic signals that form a precise digital image on a video screen, said Dr. Shaber. These images can be duplicated and transmitted electronically with no loss of quality, he said.

Furthermore, there is software available that would allow a radiologist to focus on or enhance a specific area of interest on the digital X-ray.

This new technology can result in reducing the cost of processing, storing and transporting images, so radiologists will be able to process and review more X-rays, Dr. Shaber said. The X-rays can also be stored in the computer for easy and quick access by physicians. Digital X-ray technology would also allow hospital radiology departments to see more patients and cut down on repeat examinations.

In time, hospitals could have totally filmless radiology departments, Dr. Shaber noted. “This should improve output and increase productivity, and this is one of the issues that radiologists will have to face in the future, as well as efficiency,” he said. “And the only way they’re going to become more efficient, I feel, is through digital radiography.

“I’ve been working on this technology myself for 25 years,” he added. “It had to come at some point.”

Patients can also greatly benefit from this technology, he noted. With digital radiography, a patient will spend less time waiting for X-rays to be developed and read, and the results can quickly be communicated to their primary care physician, often while the patient is in the doctor’s office, Dr. Shaber said.“If this technology offers us improved diagnostic capability, the patient is going to gain a significant amount of care,” he said. Digital technology also offers a significantly lower dose of radiation than conventional imaging.

Thomas Jefferson University

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