History of Digital Radiography

Digital radiography (DR) is an ultra-modern form of radiography that requires X-ray-sensitive plates to capture a digital image during a patient examination. The fact that it is filmless makes it super convenient and attractive to radiologists, medical institutions, and imaging facilities globally. 

The flat panel detectors used in digital radiography allow for the production of high-quality X-ray images that radiologists can view immediately on the computer screen, edit and even transfer to various computer systems without using an imaging cassette.

In this article about digital radiography (DR), we shall discuss this digital X-ray system’s history, how it works, its perks, and the two digital imaging systems (digital radiography (DR) and computed radiography (CR) available today. 

We are also going to provide any other essential information you need to know about digital radiography (DR)

The History of Digital Radiography

Digital radiography (DR) has been around since the 1970s, even though the production of X-rays dates back to centuries ago. It all began with Wilhelm Röntgen’s discovery of the X-ray on November 8, 1895. One of the first photographic plates he used during his many tests and research was a film of his wife’s, Anna Bertha, hand. During Roentgen’s day, X-rays were unheard of, and his discovery even earned him the first-ever Nobel Prize in physics (1901).

Undoubtedly, the discovery of the traditional X-ray laid the foundation for digital radiography (DR). Over the years, diagnostic imaging evolved to meet different patients’ needs and human beings in general. In the 1980s, computed radiography (CR) joined the diagnostic imaging scene. 

Plenty of hospitals were fascinated by this new technology and its advantages. Most of them had already left analog film radiography by the early 2000s. 

CR helped technologists realize all the endless possibilities in the world of radiology and made way for the inception of direct digital radiography (DDR) in 2007. 

It became the most advanced, efficient, and ideal alternative to traditional imaging systems. 

Soon after DDR’s introduction, imaging facilities and hospitals were making all efforts to attain DR equipment and the best image management systems to enhance radiography at their institutions.

Doctor hand touching modern digital tablet and looking at radiography picture

Today, digital radiography (DR) is leading in the modern diagnostic imaging field. With advancements in medical automation and artificial intelligence (AI), there is no limit to what DR can do to improve radiography’s practice in the modern world. Indisputably, DR systems have a great future that will revolutionize patient care worldwide.

Here are some critical developments made between the discovery of the X-ray and the introduction of DDR.

  • 1983 – Fujifilm Medical Systems began using Phosphor stimulated radiography in clinics
  • 1987 – Digital radiography (DR) was first used in dental practice
  • 1995 – The world’s first dental digital panoramic system was introduced by the French company Signet
  • 2001 – The first-ever commercial indirect CsI FPD for general radiography and mammography was availed
  • 2003 – Schick Technologies made Wireless CMOS detectors ( for dental practices) available
Wilhelm Roentgen

Who Invented the X-Ray Machine?

Wilhelm Röntgen invented the X-ray machine that allowed him and other people to view X-rays. These images are defined as electromagnetic energy waves that are a lot similar to light rays but act at considerably shorter wavelengths. 

X-rays were perceived as medical miracles that enabled doctors to see the insides of the human body for the first time in history. They were first used in 1897 during the Balkan War to view war victims’ broken bones and find bullets inside their bodies.

At first, scientists were so fascinated by the benefits of X-rays that they didn’t notice or even understand the harmful consequences of radiation. 

Luckily, after several years of research, they discovered that X-ray exposure was causing skin damage, burns, and even fatal illnesses such as cancer. 

That’s when they began seriously studying the impacts of X-ray exposure, even though they did not comprehend much about it back then because the technology was not as advanced.

How Does Digital Radiography Work?

Digital radiography involves the production of a digital radiographic image on a computer. The process is instant, and there’s no need for the radiologist to use an intermediate cassette to transfer the image. 

DR leverages digital sensors to convert the incident x-ray radiation into an equivalent electric charge and later into a digital image.

Flat-panel detectors, which scientists also refer to as digital detector arrays (DDAs), are essential in DR because they facilitate the generation of high-quality X-rays. 

Unlike most imaging devices, flat panel detectors possess a better signal-to-noise ratio. Their dynamic range is also enhanced, guaranteeing high sensitivity during radiographic activities.

In direct radiography (DR), flat-panel detectors work in two ways:

  • Direct conversion (direct digital radiography)
  • Indirect conversion (indirect digital radiography)

doctor holding a digital radiography film

Direct Conversion

Direct conversion involves the flat panel detectors using Cadmium telluride (Cd-Te) or amorphous selenium (a-Se) on an electrode plate. The use of these photoconductors offers excellent resolution and sharpness during the procedure. Thin film transistors are used to read the data on the detectors.

It is essential to note that during direct conversion, the x-ray photons are directly converted into digitized and amplified electronic signals as soon as they impact over the Cadmium telluride or amorphous selenium (radiologists are free to pick the photoconductors they deem best though both are effective).

Since direct conversion doesn’t use any scintillator, there is no lateral spread of light photons. This is what ensures that the image generated is sharper and differentiates this process from indirect conversion.

Indirect Conversion

During indirect conversion, the flat panel detectors come with a scintillator layer. It is handy in the conversion of x-ray photons into visible light photons. Then, with the help of an amorphous silicon photodiode matrix, the photons of light are converted into an electrical charge.

Knowing how digital radiography (DR) works, it is also crucial to understand the benefits this digital imaging system offers. This helps you to comprehend why imaging and medical facilities or radiologists in these institutions prefer DR to all other analog image processing methods available today.

Doctor woman holding xray film

What are the Advantages of Digital Radiography?

· Better Workflow

There is little doubt that digital radiography improves patient throughput and workflow in general. This is mainly because the image processing cycle is combined with the image acquisition task. Radiologists can view the digital images produced in as little as five seconds.

On top of that, these images are effortlessly transferrable to other computers, and scientists can also send them to an email address of their choice. Since digital images are generated quickly in DR, radiologists can take plenty of images within a short time, enabling them to serve more patients daily and minimize the cost they spend on the generation of a single X-ray.

· High Image Quality

This is another perk of DR that has prompted radiologists worldwide to support the X-ray system. The thing is, DR uses detectors whose imaging power is extremely high, especially when compared to computed radiography (CR) or conventional film radiography. The DR detectors’ dose efficiency also plays a role here because they lead to the production of high-contrast resolution images. Besides, DR allows radiologists to change how the images produced look. They can increase or decrease the lighting to make it easier to view and read the image.

· Versatility

The versatility that comes with DR is impressive. For starters, imaging facilities have access to a few types of quality digital radiography detectors. They have the freedom of choosing any of them depending on their features.

One of these radiography detectors is the flat plane detector. Even when the doses of radiation are low, flat plane detectors have superb imaging properties, thanks to the thick scintillator layer that makes it possible for the phosphor-generated light to prep itself for movement to the photodiodes at the production point.

In DR, radiologists can use cesium or gadolinium salts. Despite the latter being cheap, it is conveniently durable.

Also, storage phosphor plates can be used during digital radiography. Radiologists prefer them because they are compatible with all the radiography units today, allowing them to save on expenses.

· Minimal Labor

The fact that digital radiography (DR) comes with a wholly digitized setup means that radiologists don’t have to do much. Unlike with an X-ray system like computed radiography (CR), there is no need to move the imaging cassette to the plate reader. Besides, the chemical processing of film is unnecessary in DR. The lack of labor intensiveness in digital radiography means that the radiologists can solely focus on the task at hand without any distractions.

· DR Offers Patients Better Experiences

Imaging readouts in direct radiology (DR) are incredibly fast. This means that patients don’t have to wait all day to access their results and know the treatment plan they need to start. In addition, DR allows radiologists to collect more accurate or objective data from a patient’s X-ray. This guarantees better image interpretation, as well as diagnosis.

That is not everything. Digital radiology allows for lower patient exposures because the imaging failure rates are also minimal, eliminating the need for retakes. Therefore, patients don’t have to worry about suffering from all the adverse effects of increased radiation, such as skin damage, burns, or even cancer.

· Low Maintenance Costs

This is an advantage that imaging facilities enjoy once they adopt digital radiography (DR). Even though installing DR systems can be rather expensive, maintaining them is cheap. This is because they are not portable, and it makes damaging them really hard. With the low maintenance costs that come with DR, imaging facilities can save on expenses and spend the extra money on buying other equipment to improve their patient care service.

· Digital Imaging in Radiology

Digital imaging has become prevalent in radiology. Imaging institutions and hospitals know all the perks that come with DR, and they are determined to relish them while offering the best treatment services for their diverse patients.

With digital imaging, it has now become easier for radiologists to provide efficient diagnostic imaging services. Doctors can quickly diagnose diseases, monitor their treatment, and predict the potential outcomes for their patients.

What Are The Advantages Of Computed Radiography (CR) Over Conventional Radiography?

Computed radiography (CR) has several advantages over conventional radiography. To begin with, digital CR comes with less examination time when compared to the latter. This allows radiologists to view the image faster and make a diagnosis. Additionally, CR is more cost-effective than conventional radiography. Imaging organizations that desire to minimize expenses while still accessing quality imaging results should undoubtedly drop conventional radiography and adopt CR.

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A doctor demonstrating an x-ray utilizing the history of digital radiography to a patient.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When was digital radiography invented?

Digital radiography (DR) was invented in the mid-1980s

Why does digital radiography require less radiation?

 DR needs less radiation because the advanced digital sensors used in the process are more responsive and designed to minimize the radiation automatically. Besides, digital X-ray images produce up to 80% less radiation.

Who discovered gamma rays?

 French chemist Paul Villard discovered gamma rays in 1900 when he was looking into radium’s radiation. These rays are similar to X-rays because both are lethal, and too much of them can cause fatal health complications.

Who was Wilhelm Röntgen?

Röntgen is the man who discovered the X-ray on November 8, 1895, when he was working with some beam of electrons.

Can I receive my digital X-ray through email?

Yes. Radiologists can now send X-ray images to their patients via electronic means, including email.

What is the high dynamic range in DR?

Dynamic range refers to the X-ray exposure range required for the acquisition of a digital image that is easy to interpret. In DR, this range is high, making it possible for various tissues to be visible and distinguished on a single X-ray image without the need for additional imaging.

Final Thoughts

Advanced technology has made it possible for both radiologists and patients to enjoy the advantages of digital radiography. With DR, it’s possible to view X-ray images within seconds, comprehensibly analyze them, and enhance their appearance when necessary. Besides, taking care of DR systems doesn’t cost a lot, and yet, they still allow medical facilities to offer top-notch imaging services for their patients.

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