From analogue craftsmanship to digital high-tech
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The evolution of medical imaging

From analogue craftsmanship to digital high-tech

In recent years, radiology has evolved from an analogue craft to a science that is powered by high end digital…

In recent years, radiology has evolved from an analogue craft to a science that is powered by high end digital technology. The rapid and objective processing of medical imaging data drives this revolution. ‘Technology improves the quality of healthcare.’

Today, a radiologist that places X-rays on a light box to analyse them is something you only see in Hollywood movies, says doctor Olivier Vanovermeire, radiologist and head of the medical imaging department at AZ Groeninge in Kortrijk.

Olivier Vanovermeire, radiologist and head of the medical imaging department at the
academic hospital AZ Groeninge

‘Our job has evolved tremendously and has become more sophisticated, thanks to the advance of new technologies. On our colour screens, we can often see different viewpoints simultaneously. This computerization allows us to make a more detailed, more accurate and more rapid diagnosis. That extra, more detailed information is also becoming more important to our colleagues. In the old days, for example, a surgeon only wanted to know if a person had an ovary tumor or not. With the appearance of endoscopic robotic surgery, all the information regarding the complete anatomy around the ovary also became important.’

The smart processing of digital data through algorithms will be the biggest breakthrough in medical imaging

Olivier Vanovermeire, radiologist and head of the medical imaging department at the
academic hospital AZ Groeninge

Smart solutions for better healthcare

An example of such a recent imaging solution is the advanced dermatoscope developed by an internal start-up at Barco, in collaboration with, i.a. imec, UZ Leuven (Louvain University Hospital), UZ Gent (Ghent University Hospital), dermatology practice Meise and AZ Groeninge, supported by the Flemish government (Vlaams Agentschap Innoveren en Ondernemen). This tool allows dermatologist not only to make a clearer and faster diagnosis, they can also make and process photos with the integrated camera. It can help them in determining a treatment or in communicating about certain skin conditions among doctors. ‘For us, the dermatoscope is an indispensable working tool ‘, says Michiel Bonny, dermatologist associated with the AZ Groeninge. ‘It is our equivalent of the stethoscope for general practitioners.’

 Michiel Bonny, dermatologist associated with the AZ Groeninge

Digital photography is the biggest challenge for dermatologists. Today, there is no uniform process to make, structure and save images of the skin, nor to implement them in the follow-up of patients. Most dermatoscopes stand apart from a camera, says doctor Bonny. ‘Unless we talk about expensive, bulky machines which are very labour-intensive and cumbersome, and therefore hardly used.’

The compact, easy-to-use new dermatoscope with integrated camera and image saving capabilities may be a solution. It allows the dermatologist to take overall pictures of the patient, in combination with clinical photos of an injury and dermatoscopic photos. Doctor Bonny: ‘It improves the patient records. By replacing the individual text descriptions of skin lesions with photos, we reduce the risk of misinterpretation. Everyone looks at a photo with the same eyes.’

Tailored to the field

For this new development, we worked in close collaboration with the medical sector, explains Tom Kimpe, vice-president Technology & Innovation at Barco Healthcare. ‘In the past, we mainly started from technical specifications: what do we need to get a new medical device to work perfectly? Of course we still want to develop the best technical solutions, but now we first study the field. What will be the clinical task of the device? By whom and how will it be used? How do we apply it in the workflow of the user? And how do we improve the diagnostic process?’

 Tom Kimpe, vice-president Technology & Innovation at Barco Healthcare

That applies to all new Barco devices. By developing screens on which doctors can see more, so they can intervene faster and better, everyone wins. Tom Kimpe: ‘If our mammogram technology allows us to deliver more image details of micro calcifications, breast cancer can be detected in a much earlier stage. That is a social win. Our development philosophy is to create a solution where the doctor, the patient and the healthcare all benefit from.’

Artificial intelligence and algorithms

Barco’s new dermatoscope will soon be able to analyse the images in a partially autonomous way, and to distinguish certain components from one another. That is the future, confirms doctor Bonny. ‘Today, we look at an image in its entirety. This device decrypts data about pigments, blood vessels and other structures.’ The challenge for the coming years will be to use these new data to perform a more accurate and faster diagnosis. ‘Faster means, for example, that we can detect skin cancer in a much earlier stage, when it has not yet spread out. Thanks to extra details on images, which can never be seen with the naked eye.’

Barco’s new dermatoscope will soon be able to analyse the images in a partially autonomous way

The optimization of the diagnostic process also increases the need for artificial intelligence. Based on scientific research, everyone hopes that in five years’ time, AI will be able to assist doctors in the field to make better decisions. But that does not mean that specialists will soon be replaced by AI, explains Tom Kimpe. ‘We have been working for years now to develop AI solutions, but only as a support: by developing algorithms that assist, make suggestions or calculate risk scores. AI will improve the diagnostic process, but it will certainly not take it over.’

AI as an assistant

Detractors even claim that the radiologists will be the first victims of the rise of artificial intelligence. Nonsense, says doctor Vanovermeire. ‘There are still a lot of intermediate steps before that ever happens. Those AI systems must first be developed, tested and approved, and that is a huge undertaking. But I do believe that the increasingly sophisticated medical imaging and data processing will bring the diagnostic process to the next level, making therapies more tailored to the patients. My vision of the future? In the next few years, the smart processing of digital data through algorithms will be the biggest breakthrough in medical imaging.’

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