Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Enter the Digital Age:

As of this month, we have now officially ushered in the age of digital radiographs. While we are still getting used to the new format, the convenience and ability to manipulate images is astounding. The most exciting aspect for us is the ability to review images stall side, which greatly expedites the treatment and management of lameness. This technology now allows us to diagnose and treat all in one visit, where previously we had to take the films back to the office to be processed and reviewed. I believe it also greatly improves our ability to articulate to the owner the details of the radiograph when we can both look them together. It was sometimes very challenging to explain over the phone to a client what we were seeing on plain x-rays. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Also, because the images are now in an electronic format, it is very easy to make copies to a disc or send them via e-mail.

The advantages of digital radiography over plain films is certainly significant. However, it also has its limitation. One of the biggest challenges with a digital format is that the resolution of the image is limited by the resolution of the system and the resolution of the monitor. You have probably experienced this with your own digital camera. The resolution of the camera on your phone is much less than the digital camera you have at home which is less then what the camera a professional photographer might use. As you make the image larger or zoom in on a specific portion of the image, the clarity quickly starts to fade to the point that pretty soon all you see are a bunch of little boxes. The same idea holds for radiographs obtained with a digital system. While the resolution of this system is excellent, it is not perfect. On the other hand, plain radiographs are not limited by pixels and computer monitors, so for ultra fine small details, they still win. In most cases all of this resolution discussion is largely meaningless. But when fine detail really counts, like with venograms (I promise another posting at some point in the near future about venograms), nothing beats the plain films.

There is no doubt that obtaining and viewing images in a digital format will revolutionize the way we diagnose, manage and treat orthopedic conditions. We are extremely excited to now have this modality added to our diagnostic tool belt.