By Mahogany Laur
Vizient Category Manager
In the ever-evolving field of medical imaging, technological advancements have consistently revolutionized the way we diagnose and treat patients. Radiology has seen significant progress in recent years with digital imaging systems replacing traditional film-based techniques.
One crucial component of these systems is the detector grid, which has played a vital role in improving image quality. But with the rapid pace of innovation, there is speculation about their potential obsolescence.
Understanding detector grids
If left uncontrolled, scatter radiation degrades X-ray image quality, resulting in a non-diagnostic study. The introduction of detector grids, also known as anti-scatter grids, has been an integral part of radiographic imaging for decades. Detector grids consist of strips of high-attenuating, radiopaque materials such as lead and low-attenuating radiolucent materials such as carbon fiber or aluminum.
Grids are positioned between the patient and the detector with the primary purpose of absorbing scatter radiation. As a result, image contrast is enhanced and the occurrence of artifacts, such as shadows and gridlines, is reduced when performing exams in general X-ray, fluoroscopy and mammography.
While traditional detector grids have served the field well, their usage comes with some inherent limitations. The Bucky Factor, named after the inventor of anti-scatter grids Gustav Bucky, suggests that grids require an estimated two times higher X-ray doses to penetrate through dense structures. This results in increased radiation exposure for patients due to a significant portion of the primary radiation beam being absorbed.
Additionally, the presence of grids can introduce artifacts, which may require additional corrective measures.
Alternatives to traditional detector grids
Although alternatives like the air gap technique and beam-restricting devices (also referred to as collimators) have been studied for years, researchers and manufacturers continue to explore other methods for producing quality images without the use of traditional grids. The advent of digital detectors offers high sensitivity and dynamic range, resulting in better image resolution and contrast. Digital detectors have the potential to mitigate the need for detector grids because they possess inherent scatter rejection capabilities. The elimination of grids not only decreases patient radiation exposure but also reduces image artifacts, improving diagnostic accuracy.
Another promising technology is digital tomosynthesis, which captures multiple low-dose X-ray images from different angles and reconstructs them into a 3D representation. Tomosynthesis provides improved image quality and reduced radiation dose, often without the need for grids.
AI and imaging
Artificial intelligence also plays a significant role in the future of radiology. Enhancement algorithms capable of scatter correction, like Canon's CXDI Control Software NE or Carestream's SmartGrid and Smart Noise Cancellation (SNC), can enhance image quality, reduce noise and eliminate scatter artifacts without the use of physical grids. By analyzing the distribution of scatter radiation on an image and then applying advanced techniques, AI can provide highly accurate and detailed images. When imaging bedside and trauma patients, scatter correction software proves to be quite beneficial.
The future of radiology
Detector grids have been a cornerstone of image quality improvement for decades. However, considering the advent of digital imaging systems and the emergence of advanced technologies, the potential obsolescence of detector grids seems increasingly likely.
However, it is important to note that these alternatives are still evolving and may have their own limitations and challenges. Complete elimination of detector grids will not happen overnight. Transitioning will require careful consideration and validation to ensure the safety and accuracy of diagnostic imaging.
As technology continues to progress, it is likely that a combination of approaches will shape the future of radiology, ultimately providing better patient care and more accurate diagnosis.
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About the author
Mahogany Laur is a category manager on Vizient’s diagnostic imaging team under the capital subdomain. She works closely with providers and industry leaders in the general radiography, ultrasound and bone densitometry space. Laur has more than 20 years of experience in imaging with a background in management, radiation safety regulations and quality improvement. She earned a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls.