Computerized Radiography Reveals Details

You stare blankly at a nearly indiscernible abnormality in your horse's fetlock X ray as your veterinarian puts the film on a light box. He points at a bone chip, but all you see is the glaring white form of your horse's bone. All too often this is the scenario when a veterinarian is communicating a diagnosis to a horse owner. You think, "there has to be a better way," and now there is--with the growing availability of digital radiography, which is commonly called Computerized Radiography (CR).

Instead of capturing images on cassettes and having to develop the film in chemicals, CR systems capture information digitally on special plates using a regular X ray camera. The plates only save the image for a short time, and must be passed through a processor to permanently store the image in a computer. Since the image degrades 50% in an hour, the system is better for a clinical setting than an ambulatory practice.

Practitioners read radiographs daily, if not hourly, and very slight abnormalities are easy for them to spot and understand. CR is becoming more common in veterinary clinics around the country, and Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital of Lexington, Ky., is the first private equine clinic to obtain the technology. Other equine operations that have CR systems are Colorado State University, the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine), and the Universities of Georgia and Florida.

Rood and Riddle installed the Fuji FCR 5000 in April of 1999, according to Alan J. Ruggles, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, who uses the technology in at least 90% of his radiographic examinations. He says that the other vets at the clinic take advantage of the improved imaging, and use the equipment as well.

Practitioners examine the computerized radiographs on a large screen or work station, and can adjust contrast, brightness, and zoom in on problem spots. The images can be printed in X ray form, with the enhanced version beside the regular radiograph. The whole process takes only about two minutes.

"The value is that we do a lot less retakes," said Ruggles, "We can adjust on the exposure, get good detail, and have better resolution."

CR also leaves room for more operator error. "One advantage is that if you shoot (the radiograph) really hot (overexposed), you can use the computer to compensate for it," explained Steve Vargas, a CR technician at Rood and Riddle.

The biggest drawback of the system is the high cost of equipment--it takes a high volume of use to ensure that the machine earns its keep. According to Ruggles, the clinic shoots up to 100 images per day. Until recently, the clinic only could keep images in the system memory for two weeks, but the purchase of more memory has extended this time. Another advantage to CR is that practitioners can print slides or send images digitally anywhere in the world for review.

However, "the ability to diagnose subtle injuries is the most important aspect, as far as the horse is concerned," Ruggles explained. "We can get to the final diagnosis sooner, and more accurately."

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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