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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 09:09 GMT
X-rays get digital treatment
Jane Wakefield
By Jane Wakefield
BBC News Online technology staff

X-rays in hospitals around the world are gradually going digital with technology that could prove a life-saver.

Doctors looking at X-rays
Doctors can have computer access to patient's X-rays
The Charing Cross Hospital in London is one of the latest in the UK to provide digital X-rays for patients.

Digital X-rays can speed up waiting times, allow for images to be sent around the health care system more easily and provide better diagnosis for certain conditions.

Film company Kodak will be providing the kit to allow for the transition from traditional film X-rays to digital ones at Charing Cross Hospital and around 30 other hospitals in the UK.

Manipulating images

Traditional X-ray methods mean delays for patients as they wait for the film to be processed and the results are often difficult for even skilled radiologists to decipher.

The real value of digital imaging is that it allows diagnostics that were not possible with film X-rays
Dan Kerpelman, Kodak
By contrast, digital X-rays appear instantaneously on the computer screen, can easily be e-mailed to other specialists for their opinion and can also be manipulated to show up problems.

Breast X-rays can be run through a computer program to pinpoint any areas of concern and lung X-rays can be manipulated to effectively remove rib bones to allow radiographers to see better any possible tumours.

It is difficult to put a figure on how many lives such technology could save.

Dan Kerpelman, Senior Vice President of Kodak Health Imaging, believes it could push the survival rate for those diagnosed early with breast cancer up to 80% from the current 60%.

"The real value of digital imaging is that it allows diagnostics that were not possible with film X-rays," he said.

Saving leg-work

A fully digitised system, which hooks up the patient directly to the computer, could process around 70 patients an hour, a two-thirds improvement on traditional methods, said Mr Kerpelman.

We are not wasting time filing things then having to find it, put it on a trolley and deliver it.
Nicky Jonas, Hammersmith Hospital Trust
Such state of the art technology does not come cheap. A single Digital Radiography detector will set back a hospital by between 140,000 and 200,000.

In Charing Cross, the hospital is spending 1m on making the shift to digital X-raying.

The other solution for cash-strapped hospitals is to opt for computer radiography. This bridges the gap between film and digital images, with a plate that can be inserted into an existing X-ray machine and stored on a computer.

Hammersmith Hospital, the sister to Charing Cross, has already made the transition to computer-based radiography and has found it has made the system a whole lot more efficient.

"The major benefit is that we can retain the image in digital form rather than have X-rays in envelopes that could go missing," said Nicky Jonas, the General Manager of Imaging at the Hammersmith Hospital Trust.

"We are not wasting time filing things then having to find it, put it on a trolley and deliver it.

"Instead you can guarantee a good image which can be seen immediately on a web browser or on a workstation in a ward," she said.

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