Then & Now

Improved Health Outcomes

Advanced imaging enables patients to get the right diagnosis or therapy at the right time, resulting in better health outcomes at lower costs.


Positron emission tomography (PET) is often used to characterize blood flow and viability in patients who have suffered a heart attack. By eliminating the need for other diagnostic tests or surgical interventions, PET improves outcomes and lowers costs.

Each year, about 200,000 U.S. women undergo a hysterectomy because of noncancerous tumors of the uterus, known as fibroids, which cause pain and bleeding. Interventional x-ray now allows for a less invasive approach to shrink the fibroid by blocking its blood supply. This procedure—called “uterine fibroid embolization” – can be done in same-day surgery, requires less recovery time and results in fewer complications, allowing a woman to maintain fertility. But the best endorsement may be from women who have undergone the procedure: in a survey, 86 percent said that they would recommend the treatment to a friend with fibroids compared with 70 percent treated by hysterectomy.

Rather than going in “blind” to place a catheter, physicians today use ultrasound to guide them precisely to the right position to place a probe. This technique helps to avoid common complications, such as punctures, infection or blocked blood vessels. Medical imaging can help prevent unsuccessful insertion, which occurs an estimated 20 percent of the time, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). AHRQ also notes that real-time ultrasound guidance for central vein catheter insertion, helps cut costs, decrease complications, reduce treatment time and can even speed recovery. Ultrasound can also be used to guide probes to drain fluids or inject medications to deep tissues such as administering corticosteroids to joints to relieve arthritis pain.

Cardiac computed tomography angiography (CCTA) allows doctors to side-step the more invasive angiography, especially when exercise stress test results are uncertain. The improved speed of these scans also results in a more accurate picture of the heart vessels, which are more difficult to image than other arteries due to their tiny size and rapid pulse. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that CCTA saved an average of $3,061 per patient through the avoidance of unnecessary angiography.

While radiation therapy can be a powerful tool with which to attack cancer cells, it also can damage adjacent tissue. Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) targets tumors with great precision, limiting the harm to healthy cells. This is especially useful in treating moving organs, such as the lungs, or tumors located near critical organs such as the heart. In one study, prostate cancer patients treated with IGRT fared significantly better three years after treatment than those who received non-IGRT.

One in two women and one in four men aged 50 and older will break a bone rendered brittle by osteoporosis. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) measures bone mineral density to spot high-risk patients, so they can then take steps to help avoid fractures. Having this knowledge is essential, since it costs $21 billion a year to treat the two million fractures that occur annually – and by 2025, this cost is projected to rise to $25 billion.

In a survey, 86% of women said that they would recommend uterine fibroid embolization to a friend with fibroids, compared with 70% treated by hysterectomy.