Heal the world. How medical imaging changed cancer detection and public health.

in Healthcare

What do medical technology (also known as medtech) and Michael Jackson have in common? They both changed our view on important aspects of life. In fact, medtech changed the way we look at health much in the same way Michael changed the perception of pop, with a similar motivation: to heal the world. Let’s take a look at the innovations in medical imaging that have determined the past decades, and the technologies that will change the future.

Let’s start with a few facts: for early-stage breast cancers, the five-year survival rate is 98%. For early-stage prostate cancer, it’s 100%.1 Early detection can literally save lives. Next to screening and awareness programs, medical imaging has had a major impact on public health. Let’s take a look at some of the most recent innovations.   

From analog to digital medical imaging

It all started in the early 2000s, when medical imaging started to transition from analog to digital. By replacing images on film with digital images, you eliminate the time needed to process the film. As a result, medical images become immediately accessible from any location. This translates into faster examination and diagnoses for patients, while bringing healthcare professionals a more efficient way of working.


In most countries, radiologists no longer view film on a lightbox. They read digital images on a special medical display instead. This has led to faster examination and diagnoses for patients and instigated the rise of telemedicine and hospital-wide imaging.

Enterprise-wide imaging

Today, the digitization of healthcare has translated into hospital-wide imaging, also referred to as ‘enterprise imaging’. Since clinical images can be captured by a host of devices and at a myriad of locations, there is a dire need for consolidation. Often, the availability of care information is limited by technical constraints, resulting in fragmented information for healthcare professionals.

Enterprise imaging is a way to integrate all patient information and optimize how it can be managed, viewed and shared throughout the hospital. Next to diagnostic imaging, it includes procedural imaging and evidence imaging as well as reporting. Think of electronic patient records enhanced with images from endoscopy procedures or dermatology images to convey visual in addition to textual information.

A perfect example of enterprise imaging is our brand-new oncology solution named Barco Synergi™. Specially developed to streamline the oncology workflow in Multidisciplinary Tumor Board meetings, it helps clinicians to discuss many and highly complex patient cases faster and more efficiently. It means health technology is used to provide caregivers with a more holistic view of patient data, for more informed decision-making.

The rise of telemedicine

This puts into the limelight a more recent evolution: telemedicine, also known as mobile health or e-health. The concept originated in the 1960s when NASA started monitoring the health of its astronauts. Today, telemedicine has proven to improve access to high-quality care while lowering healthcare costs.

Remote healthcare services enable close follow-up of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and facilitate participation in advanced (cancer) screening programs. Taking away some of the boundaries for patients to go for regular check-ups, telemedicine fuels the early detection of suspicious findings, which is essential for effective treatment.

This way of working saves time for patients and doctors too, who can reserve face-to-face time for more critical cases. This is of the greatest importance. Time is fast becoming a luxury good when you take into consideration the projected shortage in medical staff. The United States, for example, “will likely face a 48% increase in demand for oncologist services by 2020 while there is likely to be a shortfall of 2,550 to 4,080 oncologists”.2 At the end of the day, telemedicine can bring doctors closer to patients.

Breakthrough medical imaging modalities

New techniques in medical imaging have the potential to change the face of healthcare forever. Think of digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), one of the most recent innovations in breast cancer screening. Tomosynthesis, also called multi-frame mammography or 3D mammography, takes multiple images or slices from the breast and then reconstructs a 3D breast image.

The benefits of tomosynthesis are mind-blowing. It reduces recall rates for patients and increases cancer detection.  “The incremental cancer detection rate is increased by 1.2–2.7 per 1000 women screened, as shown by multiple screening trials and multi-institutional studies. Notably the U.S. Multicenter and Oslo trials reported a 40–41% increase in invasive cancer detection.”3


If you can spot it, you can stop it. That’s exactly the purpose of SpotView: increasing visibility of subtle details in medical images. It’s just one example of how medical display technology can be used to help doctors detect abnormalities better.

Advanced medical display technology

With the advent of digital imaging also came medical displays. Whereas images on film were viewed on a lightbox, you need a special display to view digital images. That’s why high-resolution monitors were introduced. Only displays with sufficient resolution, brightness, and depth are capable of presenting digital images equally well as on film.

Some medical displays even go a step further and offer additional technologies to increase visibility of otherwise hard-to-spot cancers. Studies have shown that our I-Luminate™ luminance booster increases the detection probability of small details in the soft tissue of the breast by up to 30%.4

Another technology, called SpotView™, available on our diagnostic displays, has made it possible to increase a radiologist’s detection accuracy by 6%.5 When screening for hard-to-find cancers or abnormalities, this makes a difference.

What’s more, radiologists are able to make this diagnosis based on a mammogram taken with a lower radiation dose.5 The high brightness of the SpotView tool compensates for the reduction in radiation. This also tackles some of the concerns linked to the risks of radiation exposure.


Artificial intelligence in healthcare delivers promising results. Google’s LYNA project, for example, has proven to detect breast cancer cells in pathology images with 99% accuracy.

Detection fueled by artificial intelligence

And then there’s the latest and greatest trend in medical imaging: image analysis based on deep learning and artificial intelligence. Google recently announced the results of its latest AI project in healthcare (LYNA), which has proven to detect breast cancer cells in pathology slides with 99% accuracy. In addition, software algorithms that automate the second reading of mammograms [breast screening is a double-reading process in Europe] are being developed.

Also, not that long ago, the Stanford Machine Learning Group trained an algorithm to diagnose skin cancer. That brings us to one of our most recent innovations: Demetra6, which has been developed to provide dermatologists with augmented insights when screening for skin lesions. Though still in its pioneering state, this next-gen skin imaging platform is believed to change the future of skin cancer screening.

The most intelligent form of medtech, AI in healthcare has the ability to reduce the risk of error, enable early identification of cancer-related symptoms, and help doctors to focus on the treatment of their high-risk patients. It’s a revolutionary weapon that will provide healthcare professionals with extra ammunition in the fight against cancer.  

To put it in the words of the King of Pop: “Heal the world. Make it a better place. For you and for me. And the entire human race”.7 That’s exactly the purpose of medical imaging. Having the power to prevent, detect and diagnose critical health conditions worldwide, the impact of medtech on public health has been as legendary as Michael’s repertoire.

Sources:

  1. Cancer.org, Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts & Figures, 2017-2018 
  2. C Erikson, E Salsberg, G Forte , etal: Future supply and demand of oncologists: Challenges to assuring access to oncology services. J Oncol Pract 
  3. 79– 86,2007 3 Regina J. Hooley, Melissa A. Durand and Liane E. Philpotts, Advanced in Digital Breast Tomosynthesis, 2017  
  4. Kimpe, T. R. & Xthona, A., Quantification of Detection Probability of Microcalcifications at Increased Display Luminance Levels. Breast Imaging, Springer 7361, 490-497, 2012 
  5. Krupinski, E., Reducing Radiation Dose in Digital Mammography by Increasing Display Luminance. Proceedings of SIIM, 2018 
  6. Commercial availability of Demetra is limited to Europe at this time. 
  7. Michael Jackson, Heal the world from the album Dangerous, 1991

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