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MRIs And Memories: How Medical Images Capture Life’s Most Important Moments

This article by Ambra Health CEO, Morris Panner, was originally published in Forbes on March 24, 2020.

When we open a family photo album, we see our lives in pictures — but there are some important photos that rarely make the cut. For instance, you may see a smiling picture of your son on his bike but not the X-ray of his broken bone when he later fell off it. A picture of your mother finally being discharged from the hospital is rarely seen next to the scan of the tumor that put her there. There is a whole other side of our life stories told through medical imaging.

Discovering How To See Inside The Body

Medical imaging has been with us since 1895, when the first X-ray was taken, making it possible for doctors to peer into the human body and view broken bones, fractures and more. Fifty years later, we saw the introduction of magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, followed by the first computed tomography (CT) scan in 1971, and the development of the positron emission tomography (PET) camera in 1974. By the 1980s, MRI machines were becoming ubiquitous in hospitals, and the 1990s saw the prominence of the ultrasound for checking the health and development of the fetus.

Preventing And Diagnosing Disease And Injury

Over time, as each of these technologies developed further, physicians became better able to identify problems and diagnose medical conditions that may have otherwise gone unknown. In some cases, radiologists perform scans as a preventive measure, such as giving women regular mammograms (a type of X-ray) to catch early detection of breast cancer.

At other times, radiology imaging is used to investigate a problem. For example, a patient experiencing severe headaches might undergo an MRI to see if the culprit is something serious, like a brain tumor. Doctors may order images in response to a patient’s injury. For instance, someone who has been in a car accident might need to get a CT scan to ensure they are not experiencing internal bleeding or some other trauma that isn’t outwardly visible.

Do You Know What Your Insides Look Like?

Traditionally, the patient has often been left out of the loop when it comes to seeing these images. The radiologist will typically examine them and consult with the doctor. The doctor will then explain to the patient what has been learned from the image and discuss next steps for treatment. But through the process, these important, consequential images may never even be seen by the patient. It’s kind of incredible to think that you never see the most genuinely “revealing” pictures of yourself, isn’t it?

Baby’s First Snapshot

Something that started changing the public’s relationship with medical imaging was the increasingly widespread use of the ultrasound on pregnant women. Eventually, this process became a happy moment for the parents-to-be, getting a first grainy glimpse of their child displayed on the ultrasound machine. Today, parents receive printouts of the resulting sonogram and proudly show them to friends and post them on social media for all to see (you can even purchase special picture frames for them).

New Technologies Increase Patient Access To Scans

It’s easy to see why someone would want to see pictures — fuzzy though they may be — of their unborn baby, but what about their kidney stones? Though that might seem less likely (macabre, even), many people do in fact want to be as well informed about their own health as possible. This has been a growing trend, with the rise of WebMD, telemedicine, wearables, home health testing, remote patient monitoring and other developments that have allowed people to have greater control over their healthcare.

Where medical imaging is concerned, new technology and platforms are making it so patients are better able to access their X-rays, scans and other images, along with the attendant radiology reports. Digital tools are even being created to make it easier for patients to understand technical terms so they can interpret the image themselves.

While patients may have once felt powerless in the process of their own diagnosis and treatment, today’s patients should understand that they do have control over their imaging. If you are concerned about the results or interpretation of a scan, don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion. And the images themselves, just like one’s own family photos, belong to the patient; don’t be reluctant to request access to them.

Sharper Images

Well over 100 years after the invention of the X-ray, medical imaging has continued to improve. Today’s scans reveal images in greater definition, use cloud computing for sharing and storing, and offer more diagnostic information for the radiologist, doctor and patient alike. As the images become clearer and even more photographic, maybe we will start seeing more of them turn up in family photo albums, showing a side of people that was once considered a complete mystery.

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Morris Panner HIMSS

About Morris Panner

As CEO of Ambra, Morris Panner leads the company on its mission of delivering better care through better technology. Morris is an active voice in the cloud and enterprise software arena, focused on the services and healthcare verticals. He is a frequent contributor to business, healthcare, and technology publications. Before Ambra, Morris built and sold an industry-leading business-process software company, OpenAir, to NetSuite (NYSE:N). He once served as the US Embassy Resident Legal Advisor in Bogota, Colombia; and his first job ever was as a janitor at his old high school while on summer break from college. Both of these very different experiences taught him valuable lessons about the human condition, and make him cherish his time with family that much more. Morris has a BA from Yale University and a JD from Harvard University.

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