The ubiquity of medical imaging equipment is something we tend to take for granted here in the United States. If the doctor says you need a CT scan, you schedule one and get it taken care of. If she says you need an ultrasound, she either gives you your options in town or might even pull an ultrasound machine into the room. And while we might marvel at the fact that humans have developed such amazing devices, we’re often much more interested in what the machines reveal to us. Being able to see inside the body can be lifesaving, and we’ve simply come to expect that there will be a machine within driving distance that will be able to help the doctor and/or radiologist make a diagnosis.
But not everyone in the world is so lucky. In many parts of the world, diagnostic imaging might be hours away. In fact, two-thirds of humanity doesn’t have access to basic radiography such as x ray technology. And even if they could get to a hospital, it might be well out of their financial reach.
But things are looking up thanks to emerging communication technologies and some innovative thinking. While the information gained isn’t nearly as comprehensive as something like an MRI or DEXA, it has helped improved people’s lives across the globe.
Even if a hospital gets a used piece of high-tech equipment, it often isn’t able to be utilized. Such equipment isn’t meant to be moved, and if it is then it needs to be recalibrated by a technician. If said technician isn’t available, then the images might not deliver the proper resolution. Additionally, spare parts might not be available, or the hospital’s power grid might not be able to handle the piece of equipment. To make matters even worse, many devices aren’t designed to work in high-temperature or high-humidity environments.
What’s needed is a machine that’s been designed to work in more rugged environments. One such machine is an x ray that can travel well, works in hot parts of the world, and isn’t affected by humidity. It also helps to regulate less-than-optimal power supplies and can work from its own battery. While it might not have the advanced features and resolution as one you’d find in the United States, it’s able to do an excellent job of helping diagnose the most common ailments and injuries, all at considerably less cost.
Sometimes the problem isn’t a lack of equipment, but the lack of the ability to read it. Diagnostic imaging is not only about acquiring the image but also knowing how to interpret the results.
You might wonder how someone might know how to work a high-tech piece of equipment but not know how to interpret the image. It’s possible that a hospital in a developing country has purchased a medial imaging device but still requires training on image interpretation. Or perhaps someone in a field hospital was trained to use it but relies on someone else to make the diagnosis. In fact, that might have been the plan all along.
That’s where tele-imaging comes in. Once the image is acquired, it is sent across the world to someone who has the training in diagnostic imaging. This may be via traditional internet cables or could be via satellite phones or even cell phones. Once the diagnosis is made, the information is relayed back to the hospital.
We’re certainly glad to see medical imaging helping people in the developing world. While they might not be able to deliver top-tier MRIs, the technological advancements they are experiencing are saving lives.