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Techs can interpret chest X-rays as well as radiologists: study

by John W. Mitchell , Senior Correspondent
Chest X-rays are among the most common imaging studies performed worldwide, yet one of the most challenging to interpret. A research team at Homerton University Hospital (HUH) in London concluded that with proper post-graduate training, technologists read X-rays at a competency level comparable with radiologists.

“In the U.K. and elsewhere there are chronic shortages of radiologists, meaning patient care can be delayed waiting for a clinical report to guide management,” lead author Dr. Nick Woznitza, Ph.D., who is on the clinical staff at HUH and the academic staff at Canterbury Christ Church University, told HCB News. “We were interested to see that accuracy of trained reporting radiographers (technologists) in chest X-ray interpretation.”

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The study, just published in Academic Radiology, suggests that allowing technologists to read X-rays might help relieve imaging capacity that is being stretched worldwide. Such a delivery model has already been rolled out in the U.K., Denmark, Finland, and Norway, according to Woznitza.

“Radiographers (technologists) with additional education have been shown to accurately interpret skeletal X-rays,” he said.

In the study, ten radiologists and 11 technologists with advanced training read 106 chest X-rays taken at HUH. The study sample was split between normal and abnormal images. No statistically significant difference in accuracy was noted between the two groups.

In earlier work, the team found that trained radiographers were able to report X-rays within the lung-cancer pathway effectively. This most recent study further adds to the evidence that with additional education and multidisciplinary support, technologists might assist radiologists with this common task. After all, Woznitza noted, rapid imaging interpretation turnaround is essential for timely care.

“Person-centered care is a central element of modern medicine,” said Woznitza. “Our body of research suggests that radiographers can increasingly play a role in not only imaging acquisition but also image interpretation and provision of clinical reports. This allows opportunities to redesign pathways and improve patient experience.”

According to the site chestX-ray.com, the chest X-ray is the most commonly performed radiographic exam in the U.S., accounting for about 45 percent of all radiographic exams.

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