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Diagnostics X-ray to change, for the better

The future of radiology is bright, almost as bright as the negative parts of an X-ray.

Since its discovery in 1895 by Karl Roentgen, the fundamentals of X-ray imaging have changed little. Radiation, in the form of X-rays or gamma rays, is passed through the body, and the radiation forms an image on the receiving film or plate. However, the process and methods are continually refined, with recent progress corresponding to advances in computer science and digital technology. These breakthroughs have given rise to CT or CAT scans, computed radiography, and digital radiography.

Continued R&D in imaging technology and ever-increasing computer capabilities promise an exciting future for radiology and its impact on patient care.

Market trends
Although many of the methods developed over a century ago remain fundamental in today’s radiological technology, computers are increasingly becoming a part of radiographic diagnosis.

Advancements in artificial intelligence and automated diagnostic systems, integrated with digital radiography imaging techniques, may become a key development in the future of radiology.

Digital radiography has grown from a potential alternative to conventional radiography to the new standard as far as medical image capturing is concerned. However, just because it is grown in prominence does not mean that it cannot be improved. There are a variety of different trends and innovations poised to shape the future of digital radiography.

Perhaps one of the biggest overarching trends that one should start with is the fact that the various incentives that have been implemented over the past few years to try and push digital radiography have truly begun to bear fruit. Reports show that up to 80 percent of the existing X-ray user base in the US has made the transition to digital radiography, up from closer to 50 percent in 2015. Those that have already moved to digital radiography consider this vindication as a right decision. For those still debating the decision, here are some things to consider. As a start, physicians need to realize that as digital radiography begins to grow, compatibility, and expectations are going to become areas of concern. From the compatibility end, a lot of equipment and accessories are going to be made with digital radiography as the top priority. If physicians are looking to use some of these with their analog or computed radiography equipment, there is no guarantee it will work properly or at all.

One side trend that bears mentioning is the fact that just because digital radiography is the new standard, it does not mean that all tech is as successful. Surveys among medical-imaging professionals about cloud-based technology show more confusion and ambivalence rather than excitement. If anything, this reinforces the fact that digital radiography has proven to be something here to stay, rather than a fad. Cloud tech in the imaging world may one day have similar prominence, but it looks like decision-makers are not sold yet.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to revolutionize the medical-imaging industry by sifting through mountains of scans quickly, and offering providers and patients with life-changing insights into a variety of diseases. Big-name companies are partnering together to explore how AI can improve diagnostics. AI and radiologists will continue to complement each other in future. Interestingly, although AI is faster on its own, the best results come from teamwork – humans utilizing the AI algorithm as a second look. AI will support radiologists and medical-imaging departments by streamlining workflows and improving productivity.

Applications and mobile solutions approved by the US FDA in medical imaging are few and far between, for now. Expect that to change completely over the coming years, as mobile technology will have a huge impact on diagnostics, imaging, and patient engagement. Beyond that, mobile is an incredibly lucrative platform that offers always-on and anywhere access. Think mobile training and classroom experiences for budding radiologists. Or OTA (over-the-air) screening and imaging opportunities. Consulting is possible too, thanks to secure, zero-footprint communications tools.

One related, yet separate, form of technology is Big Data. Massive troves of information are collected, processed, organized, and then analyzed to find relevant insights or trends. But it is not human laborers pouring over thousands of lines of code and raw data – it is machines, or more specifically machine learning. The deep-learning solutions are used to improve existing operations, treatments, and discover new opportunities. For example, with a huge collection of data, a machine-learning system can help identify better and more accurate ways to diagnose patients. It uses historical, current, and predictive models to cross-reference symptoms or markers of a particular ailment. While this is a basic example, the technology will improve the entirety of the industry – from the way that doctors diagnose and treat their patients, to the medicines and operations that are available.

Market dynamics
The global digital-radiography market is likely to gain significant impetus from recent technological advancements. The global digital X-ray market is expected to grow from USD 9.1 billion in 2019 to USD 18.07 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 10.24 percent, according to Fior Markets. The increasing cases of chronic diseases like arthritis and cancers, and demand for effective diagnostic imaging, are expected to enhance the growth of the segment. In addition, rising geriatric population is also boosting the growth of the global digital X-ray market. The high cost of these instruments may restrict the growth of the digital X-ray market. However, rising adoption of minimally invasive surgical procedures will drive the growth of the digital X-ray market in the coming years.

The ability of digital-radiography technology to save and share images electronically, without the use of film and chemicals, has increased its adoption over the recent years. Moreover, features like generation of quick images, improved workflow, and decreased exam time will favor business growth.

Diagnostic centers segment held around 44 percent revenue share in 2019. X-ray being the most effective and conventional diagnostic tool and digitization in the X-ray has observed a strong position in diagnostic laboratories worldwide. The diagnostic centers provide treatment at significant less cost as compared to hospitals due to high operational efficiency. Moreover, risk of hospital-acquired infections will increase patient preference toward diagnostic centers, thus, driving segmental growth.

Some of the key industry players operating in the X-ray equipment industry globally include GE Healthcare, Philips Healthcare, Siemens, Fujifilm Medical Systems, Canon, Carestream Health, Shimadzu, Dentsply Sirona, Hitachi Medical, Midmark, Konica Minolta, PerkinElmer, Hologic, and Varian Medical Systems. Industry players are focusing their efforts on developing technologically advanced medical X-ray to enable precise and cost-effective systems to cater to increasing consumer demand in developed as well as developing countries.

Way forward
No, the trends discussed here are not necessarily guaranteed. It is entirely possible that AI would not make such a huge impact in the industry, or that mobile will never catch on. But one thing is definitely certain, and it is that the radiology field is about to change irrevocably, for the better.

Patient care and engagement will be improved, new treatments will become available, and age-old processes and operations will be brought into the modern age. More importantly, the way in which field professionals support their patients will become more accurate and streamlined than before.

The possibilities for future improvement in radiology equipment and methods are boundless and will undoubtedly continue improving medical care and positive outcomes for patients undergoing almost any form of treatment.

The future of radiology is bright, almost as bright as the negative parts of an X-ray.

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