A Brief History of X-Rays in Hospitals

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Wouldn’t you have liked to be a fly on the wall when the first X-Rays were taken? Imagine how magical that would have seemed, to be able to see the bones and tougher soft tissues of the human body for the first time. It was seemingly miraculous for those who first experienced it.

Wait, though. Odds are, that fly on the wall would have been exposed to serious scatter radiation – and general radiation – as X-Ray technology and radiation shielding were nowhere near being perfected yet. So, on second thought, perhaps reading about the interesting history of X-Rays and their use in hospitals and doctors’ offices is good enough.


X-Rays Were Available as Early as 1896

X-Rays were actually an accidental discovery, made by physicist Wilhelm Röntgen back in 1895. However, the medical establishment was quick to pick up on its potential. Thus, within less than a year, a radiology department was opened in Glasgow, boasting exciting pictures of kidney stones and a penny that was lodged in a young child’s throat. You could even experience the wonders of X-rays if you attended a local fair or carnival, where enterprising carnies would show you your own skeleton for a price.

Fortunately, information regarding the risks and dangers of un-shielded radiation spread quickly so within a short amount of time, X-rays were used predominantly in the medical field as a diagnostic tool and, soon as a treatment for cancer and other medical conditions.

Military doctors were some of the first to use X-Rays on a regular basis. Prior to the visuals an X-ray provided, these doctors had to rely on sight and feel to determine where a bullet or pieces of shrapnel were located. Now, they could get a precise view, which aided the doctors’ ability to remove the pieces with as little harm to surrounding tissues and blood supplies as possible.

By 1930 X-Rays Were a Routine Part of Patient Diagnostics

In addition to bullets, shrapnel, swallowed pennies and broken bones, X-Rays were also an excellent tool for diagnosing tuberculosis (TB), a debilitating and often fatal disease that is also contagious. Again, the military capitalized on the technology, insisting that all army recruits be X-Rayed to rule out candidates who had TB in order to prevent its spread to others.

By the early 1900s, hospitals around the first-world were routinely using X-Ray technology. In the beginning, doctors were the ones who used X-rays as a diagnostic device. But the demand for the technology became so high that soon, doctors decided to bring on assistants who could perform the X-Ray portion of the process, passing the images along to the doctor and/or other specialists for diagnosis and assessment of treatment.

The UK Science Museum reports that by 1930, “X ray machines were central to hospital diagnosis,” radiology departments were being opened world-wide and specific training for radiologists and technicians had begun.

The Advancement of Radiology

As with any new technology, advancements in X-ray use, treatment and protection in the form of shielding and building design have increased the accuracy of radiology while minimizing potential harm to both radiologists and patients. Some of these advancements include the introduction of the CT Scan in the early 1970s and ultrasounds in the 1950s. When ultrasounds were first invented, the images were still. “Real time” ultrasound imaging wasn’t available to doctors and patients until the 1970s.

One of the main benefits of ultrasound is its ability to capture better and more clear images of the soft as well as hard tissues in the human body, while also being much safer than X-rays. In fact, studies are now showing that the use of ultrasound, as opposed to X-rays, may be a better alternative in terms of overall health and safety.

X-Ray technology has benefited the field of medicine – and the arena of human health – in numerous ways, but it’s still important that doctors and patients understand the risks and take proper precautions to protect themselves from unnecessary radiation.

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