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Digital and conventional radiology: Advantages, disadvantages and differences

Many hospitals and clinics have already abandoned the old-fashioned radiographic apparatus and entered the modern era of diagnostic exams.

If you are a health professional, but still work with old-fashioned radiological equipment, you better stay alert.

Digital radiology has many advantages over conventional radiology.

Some of these advantages are:

  • The exams get more definition, sharpness, contrast and have greater density differentiation;
  • Patients and radiologists are less exposed to agents harmful to health;
  • The exams are ready immediately.

And there’s more!

Want to know all the advantages and also the disadvantages?

In this article we will discuss the main differences between conventional radiography and digital radiography. We will also find out how the machines work, what are the advantages, disadvantages and what are the applications of this technology.

All you need to know before you upgrade your medical examination environment is here.

How Conventional Radiology Works

The conventional x-ray is the same until today.

The equipment emits radiation (controlled by the radiologist) against the patient’s body.

Human tissues (adipose tissues, muscles, bones, etc.) absorb different amounts of radiation, causing x-rays to reach the radiographic film with different intensities.


The radiographic film burns when receiving the radiation according to the level of radiation emitted.

After this:

It is necessary that the film be revealed so that it can be analyzed by the specialist.

The process of developing the film generates images in shades of white and gray.

The whiter tones represent dense materials, which absorbed all the radiation and prevented the film from burning.

Already the darker tones represent the less dense structures, where most x-rays have been able to cross and burn the film.

Is this procedure dangerous?

Applying radiation to the human body is not a healthy act.

For this reason the radiologists work with a protocol where they must regulate the equipment so that the least amount of radiation possible in the patients is poured.


If the quantity is too small the result of the examination will be compromised, forcing the patient to repeat the examination.


Advantages and disadvantages of conventional radiology

Perhaps the only advantage of this technology is the value of the equipment.

They are relatively cheaper than digital ones.

It also does not require any specialized knowledge to perform the exams.

The correct positioning of the x-ray emission is sufficient in the ideal quantity and in the determined time.

Entertaining :

The amount of x-ray film that needs to be discarded or saved makes this method unsustainable for the organization.

Another factor that causes discomfort is the repetition of failed exams and excessive radiation exposure to patients and to radiologists or device technicians.


How does digital radiology work?

The digital x-ray is based on the same principles of x-ray emission to capture the images, however it is not necessary to use the old radiographic films for the examination visualization.

Instead, the exams are sent to the computer, where they can be edited, analyzed, stored, or printed.

Within digital radiology, there are two categories of equipment: DR and CR. Both work in a similar way, however, in the CR there is a need for a card reader for the transfer of the exam to the computer. In DR, the exam is transferred directly from the device to the computer.

Let us see in more detail the functioning and the differences of direct and indirect radiology below:


Indirect digital radiology (CR)

The indirect digital equipment has a chassis to receive a digital phosphor plate sensitive to radiation, where the images are digitized.

After the x-rays are applied, the plate receives the patient’s image.

Then the card needs to be placed in a reader so that it can be transferred to the computer.


Direct Digital Radiology (DR)

The direct digital equipment works similar to the indirect equipment, the difference is that it is not necessary to use the digital plate, nor the reader of this plate.

The x-rays are captured by a radiation-sensitive circuit board, which automatically generates the image and sends it directly to the computer.


Advantages and disadvantages of digital radiology

Digital exams have more definition, sharpness, contrast and density differentiation.

Why is this important?

Because the generated image can achieve much more detail, allowing the doctor to diagnose health problems that were not displayed in conventional radiology exams.

And to improve:

digital radiology monitor

If the examination presents any irregularity that may cause doubt to the professional, it is possible to make changes in the scanned images, so that a better result can be obtained

This means that the radiologist can adjust cut, rotate, increase, add annotations, change the contrast, change the equalization  and perform several other options within each image.

It is a great advantage to favor the identification of injuries and other symptoms, culminating in accelerated recovery actions.

Besides that:

Digital exams require a much lower radiation load, making the environment much safer for both the patient and the operator of the equipment.

Digital x-ray equipment also has the enormous advantage of streamlining the professionals’ daily routine.

Because the images are ready on time, you can issue the report to a remote physician or immediately print them for internal use.

It is thus possible to diagnose the patient and start treatment quickly.

These benefits greatly increase productivity in the radiology industry .

Finally, we have a considerable waste reduction, since x-ray films are no longer needed , and paper tests can be recycled later.

What about the disadvantages?

The only aspect we can cite as a “disadvantage” is the fact that digital equipment needs a greater investment than conventional radiology equipment.

Radiologists also need to be able to operate the equipment.


What are the most common digital exams?

Nowadays there are already many equipment that have gone through the digital renovation, becoming more agile and effective.

The main ones are:

  • X-ray;
  • Ultrasound;
  • Magnetic Resonance;
  • Tomography;

digital tomographydigital ultrasounddigital x-ray


Dangers and benefits of print exams on paper

The printing of the exams works similar to the conventional process, but instead of radiographic films, everything is printed on paper.

This process is cheaper, it generates less garbage and streamlines work.

The quality of the exams is far superior in the paper than it would be in the film.

But you have to be careful:

Exams should be printed on quality medical printers . If scans are printed on poor or poorly calibrated equipment, the images may show distortions or color variations, resulting in a different result from the original.


The main requirements of test printers
  • Have high print quality : It’s important to make sure that what’s printed is true to what’s on the computer. Unqualified tests can distort or even prevent the correct diagnosis from being made;
  • Ensuring continued availability : Hospitals and clinics are always busy places. You must ensure that all printers run uninterruptedly so that work flows normally. Printer problems should be resolved quickly;
  • Ensure Color Reliability : Many areas within a hospital have differentiated color requirements. Some doctors or technicians prefer the printer to emphasize gray, others prefer the more prominent red, so the calibration and quality of the equipment is important. Low-vibration, low-density, non-shade-rich colors can hide symptoms that may go undetected by doctors.


The printing of the exams needs to be 100% reliable for doctors, after all, it is often in them that they are based to diagnose the patients.

For this reason, it is important that this activity is not performed by the hospital’s internal staff, be it IT, financial, or other areas.

Certified technicians are required for the best quality and color reliability to be achieved.

For this problem  the outsourcing of printing is the answer because the hospital leaves in the hands of the outsourced company the whole print park, and can focus on what is your business: the health of patients.


Digital Radiology in Dentistry

Digital radiology extends to other areas of health, such as dentistry and veterinary medicine.

The periapical, interproximal, panoramic and occlusal examinations can be performed in the digital or conventional dental radiology, however, the digital method presents the same advantages of the medical area, mentioned above.

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