Understanding the role and importance of radiologists in Canada

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By Dr. Emil Lee

Radiologists are physicians who work with medical imaging to diagnose illnesses. These imaging procedures include MRI, CT, ultrasound and X-ray. Radiologists monitor patient treatment and screen for conditions including cancer, heart disease, and other conditions. Radiology is an essential component of healthcare in Canada.

A recent Nanos poll revealed that 97 per cent of Canadians support and understand the value of radiology. Over 80 per cent of Canadians also support more research into the use of artificial intelligence in the field.

Patients from every demographic rely on medical imaging to diagnose and treat conditions. Radiologists interpret medical images, advise other physicians on medical imaging results in clinical workups, use imaging to identify or rule out a disease and recommend other imaging follow-up, if necessary.

There are various types of medical imaging in Canada. Below is a list of the various technologies and a brief description of how they work:

CT

  • Computed tomography (CT) uses X-rays and sophisticated computer imaging technology
  • Produces a series of 2D or 3D images of a part of the body
  • CT scans can be used to check for brain injuries, appendicitis and other abdominal indications

 

MRI

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a powerful magnetic field to produce detailed images of organs, soft tissues, bones and other internal body parts
  • MRI is especially useful in detecting nervous system, musculoskeletal, cardiac and cancer-related diseases or injuries

 

X-RAY

  • X-ray imaging uses a form of electromagnetic radiation that passes through the body to create 2D images of a region of the body
  • These images are primarily used to detect muscle or bone problems

 

ULTRASOUND

  • Ultrasound imaging uses high-frequency sound waves interpreted by a computer to generate real-time images of the body
  • Ultrasound is also known as sonography and is used in obstetric and mammographic imaging

 

A growing area in this field is interventional radiology (IR). IR has allowed complicated surgical procedures to become less invasive and more effective through guided imaging. Over the past two decades, this subspecialty has vastly expanded to treat a variety of diseases affecting every organ in the body. For example, IR has been used for cancer biopsies and stroke treatments, playing an important role in ensuring treatment efficiency by restoring blood flow quickly and safely. IR has also contributed to significant efficiency gains in healthcare.

In Canada, radiologists have 13+ years of training in healthcare. They are licensed through the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

Radiologists work closely with front-line physicians in helping to provide information which will assist in the assessment and treatment of patients. Although in some instances there is no direct patient access, radiologists are working behind the screens to help identify illness and contribute to treatment plans.

In my practice I have had the opportunity to work first hand with many general practitioners and emergency physicians. The feedback I often receive is that the role of radiology is essential to diagnosis. By providing information to support or supplement their initial assessment diagnosis or to reveal a different diagnosis or any number of underlying conditions, the information that I can provide allows for them to care for their patients much more effectively.

Over the years the radiology profession has evolved and continues to change through innovation in technology. This has made a tremendous impact in how radiologists’ practice and has vastly improved patient care and outcomes.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the next great leap forward in medical imaging technology. AI is the science of reproducing human cognitive function through computers, which includes problem solving, reasoning, understanding and recognition. The combination of computer science and medicine will help radiologists make more precise diagnoses and offer the correct treatments for patients.

Canada is a global leader in AI research. Canadian research groups are aiming to design computers that are better at identifying patterns and calculating better predictions with their algorithms.

The Canadian Association of Radiologists (CAR) has published a White Paper on AI in Radiology to guide and inform the implementation of AI tools in radiology, which includes information on all matters of AI in relation to medical imaging, including practice, policy, patient care and ethics.

It is CAR’s vision is to create a pan-Canadian AI research network for medical imaging. Collaborating with interdisciplinary stakeholders will help foster the development of best practices for implementation of AI in radiology.

CAR focuses on ensuring that the radiology profession is understood and continues to flourish while improving the health of Canadians. Through innovation in medicine and the implementation of new technologies there will be an evolution in the way radiologists conduct their practice. This will improve patient outcomes and help radiologists’ practice to their full scope with the larger healthcare team.

Dr. Emil Lee is the President, Canadian Association of Radiologists (CAR) , the national voice that advocates for the advancement of radiology in Canada. For more information about radiologists please visit car.ca