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The Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute® studies the value and role of radiology in evolving health care delivery and payment systems, including quality based approaches to care and the impact of medical imaging on overall health care costs. Neiman Institute research provides a foundation for evidence-based imaging policy to improve patient care and bolster efficient, effective use of health care resources.

Q. What is radiology?
A. Radiology (rA-dE-ol-O-jE)
1. The science of high energy radiation and of the sources and the chemical, physical, and biologic effects of such radiation; the term usually refers to the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
2. The scientific discipline of medical imaging using ionizing radiation, radionuclides, nuclear magnetic resonance, and ultrasound.


Q. Is a radiologist a doctor?
A. Yes, radiologists are medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases and injuries using medical imaging techniques, such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography (PET) and ultrasound.

Radiologists graduate from accredited medical schools, pass a licensing examination, and then go on to complete a residency of at least four years of unique post-graduate medical education. These physicians often complete a fellowship — one to two additional years of specialized training in a particular subspecialty of radiology, such as breast imaging, cardiovascular radiology or nuclear medicine.


Q. What role do radiologists have in your health care?
A. Radiologists act as an expert consultant to your referring physician (the doctor who sent you to the radiology department or clinic for testing) by aiding him or her in choosing the proper examination, interpreting the resulting medical images, and in using test results in your care. They also recommend further scans or treatments when necessary and direct radiology technologists (personnel who operate the equipment) in properly performing quality exams.


Q. What are common radiological procedures?
A. The most common radiological procedures are x-ray, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and ultrasound.

X-ray uses a form of electromagnetic radiation that is passed through the body to create a 2-D image of a body part or region. X-ray is especially useful in detecting muscle or bone problems. A mammogram is a common example of X-ray technology.

Computed tomography (CT) uses X-rays and sophisticated computer technology to produce a series of 2-D images and/or to generate a 3-D image of a part of the body. CT scans are widely used for a variety of medical situations, such as detection of cancer, heart disease, and aneurysm.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a powerful magnetic field to produce detailed pictures of organs, soft tissue, bones, and other internal body parts. MRI is especially useful in detecting nervous system, joint, heart, and cancer-related diseases.

Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves and computer technology to generate “real-time” images of the body. Ultrasound, also known as sonography, is often used in obstetric and breast imaging care.


Q. How much medical radiation is too much?
A. There is no set answer to the question: “How much medical radiation is too much?” Physicians should prescribe what is necessary, avoid overuse and safely use imaging procedures for your healthcare.

Sometimes, an additional x-ray, CT scan or nuclear imaging exam may help determine treatment or recovery progress. If so, the examination is necessary. The answer depends on your medical need. Asking questions can help you understand why you need an examination and which one is best for your healthcare.


Q. What does current medical imaging show?
A. Various studies show that imaging exams are directly linked to greater life expectancy, and for many indications, declines in mortality rates. Scans are also safer and less expensive than many of the invasive procedures that they now replace. For many serious indications, imaging exams reduce the number of invasive surgeries, unnecessary hospital admissions and length of hospital stays.

The overall quality, safety and financial impact of these successes against primary diseases, injuries and illnesses, and the role that radiologists and radiology will serve in new models of care have yet to be thoroughly explored.