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Patient FAQs | St. Paul Radiology
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Patient FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions from Patients

Your first question might be “What’s a Radiologist?” Here are some of the most common questions that many patients have asked:

Question: What type of education and training is needed to become a radiologist?

Answer: A Radiologist is a physician with specialized training in medical imaging. After finishing a four-year college degree, they attend four years of Medical School, followed by four more years of Radiology Residency. Many radiologists then complete an additional one to two years of advanced training in specific subspecialty areas of medical imaging or image-guided procedures.

Question: Tell us about the different kinds of imaging technologies.

Answer: A quick explanation of imaging technology follows:

  • X-Ray: Imaging with x-rays involves exposing a part of the body to a small dose of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the inside of the body. X-rays are the oldest and most frequently used form of medical imaging.
  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound imaging involves exposing part of the body to high-frequency sound waves to produce pictures of the inside of the body. Because ultrasound images are captured in real-time, they can show the structure and movement of the body’s internal organs, as well as blood flowing through blood vessels.
  • Mammography: Mammography utilizes x-rays to image breasts. Imaging with x-rays involves exposing a part of the body to a small dose of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the inside of the body. A recent advance is “digital mammography”, a mammography system in which electrical signals capture the images instead of conventional x-ray film.
  • CT (Computed Tomography) Scan: Sometimes called CAT Scan, a CT Scan is a noninvasive medical test that combines special x-ray equipment with sophisticated computers to produce multiple images of the inside of the body.
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): An MRI is a noninvasive medical test that uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses, and a computer to produce detailed pictures of organs, soft tissues, bone, and virtually all other internal body structures.
  • Bone Mineral Density: Bone density scanning is an enhanced form of x-ray technology that is used to measure bone loss. Imaging with x-rays involves exposing a part of the body to a small dose of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the inside of the body.
  • Molecular Imaging: Nuclear Medicine (also called Molecular Imaging) utilizes small amounts of radioactive material to create imaging scans. Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam, the radioactive material is either injected into a vein, swallowed, or inhaled as a gas and eventually accumulates in the organ or area of the body being examined, where it gives off energy that can be measured and special pictures are produced that provide detail on the structure and function of organs and tissues.
  • Angiography: This procedure is performed to view blood vessels after injecting them with a dye that outlines them on x-ray.

Question: What kinds of physical conditions does radiology help diagnose?

Answer: Some common conditions and diseases include heart failure, pneumonia, bowel obstruction, appendicitis, kidney stones, and many types of cancer. In less common or rare diseases, a diagnosis is often made in collaboration with other physicians. Examples of these conditions include sickle cell anemia, amyloid angiopathy, and mesenteric ischemia.

Question: How does a radiologist work with a Primary Care Physician?

Answer: The Radiologist and the patient’s Primary Care Physician work as partners. After evaluating the patient’s symptoms and physical exam findings, the Primary Care Physician will order the radiology exam most appropriate to assist in diagnosis. Common exams include chest X-ray, abdominal ultrasound, chest CT, or brain MRI. The Radiologist will set specifications for the exam, interpret (or “read”) the imaging study, and send a report to the Primary Care Physician. If the Radiologist identifies a disease that requires emergency treatment, they will contact the Physician immediately. This close relationship between the Radiologist and Primary Care Physician promotes the best possible patient care.

Question: What input does a patient have in deciding where to access imaging services?

Answer: Most insurance plans allow the patient to choose where they would like their imaging test performed (it’s always a good idea to check with your insurance plan for coverage information). If you are an outpatient, it is often less expensive to have your test performed outside of the hospital at an “Imaging Center”. Imaging Centers tend to be conveniently located, can accommodate a patient’s schedules, can complete tests quickly, and provide nearby parking with easy access. If your clinic is helping you schedule your exam, you can request the exam be done at an Imaging Center.