Emerging CT Technology Improvement and How it is Changing Healthcare

CT scanners have become commonplace in hospitals due to their ability to capture internal images of patients using X-rays, making them helpful for accurately diagnosing numerous conditions as well as tracking the effectiveness of treatments. They’re particularly useful in diagnosing injuries and conditions in emergencies due to how quick CT scans are, which is why many hospitals have CT scanners set up in their ER. However, CT scanners haven’t been around for that long, so it’s no surprise that new improvements are continuously being made to CT scanning technology.

What is Computed Tomography (CT) Imaging?

CT scanners function in a similar way to X-ray machines, but where X-ray machines use a single radiation beam to capture an image, CT scanners use numerous narrow beams that are sent through the patient’s body. Each beam captures a 2-D image of the part of the body being scanned, referred to as a slice. The data is transmitted to a computer, which then takes all of the slices and combines them to generate a 3-D image of the part of the patient’s body that was scanned.

Depending on the type of condition being looked for or treated, the patient may be given a contrast agent. This can be done orally or intravenously and helps provide more clarity in the image being captured so the doctor can more easily and accurately diagnose the patient.

CT scans are often performed to help diagnose issues in the soft tissues, pelvis, blood vessels, lungs, brain, abdomen, and bones. They are particularly useful in diagnosing cancer as they can reveal and accurately pinpoint the location of tumors in the brain and abdomen. CT scans are more effective than other types of diagnostic imaging machines for imaging the lungs,organs, and identifying broken bones. 


The History of the CT Scanner

X-ray technology was first discovered by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen in 1895. Although the idea of X-ray computed tomography dates back to 1917 (when Johann Radon showed that a function could be reconstructed using an infinite set of its projections), it wasn’t until 1963 that William Oldendorf received a patent for a radiant energy machine that could investigate specific areas of interior objects (such as inside the body) that were obscured by dense materials. The CT scanner as we know it was conceived in 1967 and the first brain scan was performed in 1971 at the Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon, England. 

The first CT scanner took 160 parallel readings through 180 angles. Each scan took around five minutes to complete; however, because of the limited computer technology available at the time, the images took around two and a half hours to be processed on a large computer.

Over the next few decades, CT scanners would continue to improve their scanning and processing speeds, slice count, and image quality. In the late 1990s, mobile CT scanners were introduced for facilities that did not have enough space to install a fixed CT scanner.

However, one of the biggest advances made in CT scanning technology is the development of the multi-detector CT scanner, which was first introduced in 1998.

What is a Multidetector CT Scan?

Multi-detector CT scanners (MDCT) are much faster.. The scanner rotates around the body of the patient, taking pictures of thousands of different vantage points to generate a virtual 3-D image. 

Because they are so fast, they can take pictures of the heart that show doctors how a patient’s heart is pumping. MDCTs are known by a variety of different names, including modern CTs, multi-slice CTs, multi-detector-row CTs, and multi-section CTs. This can be confusing, but they are all names for the same type of scanner.


Advantages of  Multidetector CT

The typical CT scanner installed today is a 16-slice system. The primary advantage of multi-detector CT is faster scanning time and higher resolution. The value of the faster scanning time from a 64 slice and greater is that they can “freeze” the heart. Along with the introduction of higher slice counts came the implementation of faster reconstruction engines. 


What are the Risks of MDCT?

There are a few risks when it comes to MDCT scans, but these risks are similar to those of conventional CT scans. Like conventional CT scanners, an MDCT scanner will expose the patient to a low dose of radiation. It shouldn’t be a high enough dose to affect the patient, but there’s always a risk when it comes to any dosage of radiation, especially if the patient is pregnant (which is why MDCT scans are not recommended for pregnant patients unless it’s in an emergency situation). 

It’s worth noting that many MDCT scans require that the patients take a contrast, which will help improve the clarity of what the doctor is looking for in the scanned images. While the contrast agents used are considered safe, some patients may have an allergic reaction to them. It’s important that doctors ask their patients about any allergies to dyes, iodine, or shellfish before asking them to take a contrast as they could have a reaction if they have such allergies.

The Future of Radiology and Improvements With This new CT Scanner

Conventional CT scanners have had a huge impact on the medical industry. Once the MDCT was introduced, the diagnostic capabilities of hospitals that used them increased even more. Considering how fast CT technology has advanced, we can expect even more improvements in the field within the next few decades–if not the next few years. Of course, patient safety should be our first concern, which is why it’s important to monitor the risk levels as CT technology improves and advances.