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Digital X-rays introduced; could revolutionize medicine

Digital X-ray

New technology 'a big deal'

August 22, 1997
Web posted at: 12:10 a.m. EDT (0410 GMT)

From Correspondent Susan Reed

SANTA CLARA, California (CNN) -- A breakthrough in X-ray technology was announced Thursday in Silicon Valley that manufacturers believe will revolutionize medical care.

It is the digital X-ray, a development which means no more waiting for film to be developed. A radiologist will be able to look at an image as it's being taken, and make an immediate diagnosis.

General Electric and EG&G combined to create the new device, which features a silicon-coated glass panel the size of a pizza box. Doctors say the resolution is as good as film, and the X-rays reveal greater detail than conventional X-rays.

"It's a big deal," says Lonnie Edelheit, Chief Technology Officer for GE Medical Systems. "We've put as much into this as CAT scan and MRI, and those are very big businesses."

The U.S. military, a pioneer in telemedicine, helped fund the research and is excited about its potential.

"We can bring patient populations and care-giver populations together in a new mix that hasn't been seen before," says Dr. Greg Mogel of the Army Medical Corps. "And the benefits of that, we can't even predict what that will be. I think they'll be dramatic."

Live X-rays from remote locations

X-ray satellite link

Since the images can be electronically stored and transmitted worldwide by computer, mobile clinics will be able to go to remote and under-served areas where people will not only get exams, but also immediate diagnoses from radiologists. They will then be able to have a video conference directly with the doctor by way of a satellite up-link.

Physicians are also excited about the possibility of being able to detect cancer and other diseases and injuries that sometimes go undetected.

"We're going to be exploring using contrast material intravenously, administering contrast material that we think will show us cancers that are, quite frankly, not detectable at this point by mammogram," says Dr. Daniel Kopans of Massachusetts General Hospital.

There are also hopes that the X-rays will bring advances in cardiology, but, as usual, it will be some time before these machines are widely available. Clinical trials are under way, and Food and Drug Administration approval is required, a process that takes at least a year.

Long distance mammograms

When and if digital X-rays are approved, one of the first applications will almost certainly be for mammograms.

"One of the things that's very anxiety-provoking is to have a mammogram and have to come back for a recall," says Dr. Charles J. D'Orsi of the University of Massachusetts. "The woman thinks the worst."

With digital X-rays, there won't be time to think the worst. The information will be there immediately, eliminating a potential source of stress and anxiety.

 
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