Diagnostic FAQs

At Progressive Physician Associates, we believe that being an informed patient helps equip you for your own essential role in the healing process and in maintaining a lifestyle that will enhance your long-term vascular wellness.

This page addresses concerns that patients most frequently express about the diagnostic radiology services. As always, you are welcome to contact Progressive Physician Associates with any additional questions or concerns about our diagnostic radiology services.

What is diagnostic radiology?

Diagnostic radiology is a broad term for a variety of methods, including X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI),computed tomography (CT), ultrasound, and others, of creating images of the inside of the body for the purpose of diagnosing or planning the treatment of injuries or diseases.

Who are diagnostic radiologists?

Many patients confuse the term radiologist, a physician who interprets medical imaging exams, with radiologic technologists and other specially trained professionals who operate medical imaging devices and perform the exams. Diagnostic radiologists have earned a medical degree from an accredited allopathic (M.D.) or osteopathic (D.O.) medical school in the U.S. or abroad, followed by postgraduate training and clinical rotations (residency and fellowship) in the medical specialty of diagnostic radiology and/or one of its subspecialties (such as breast imaging or neuroradiology). They must also be licensed to practice medicine in any states in which they work. In most cases a radiologist will not be present while an imaging exam is being conducted. Rather, a radiologist will medically evaluate the resulting images and prepare a report on the results to the referring physician. The report will include one or more of the following: a diagnostic impression, a recommended treatment, or a recommendation of one or more followup tests to make a more precise diagnosis or to help formulate a treatment plan.

Why do I need a diagnostic radiology exam?

Primary care and specialist physicians order diagnostic radiology exams when a diagnosis or treatment plan is needed for a known or suspected injury or illness. Some patients also need certain diagnostic radiology exams on a routine basis, to screen for possible illness. Common examples include mammograms to screen women age 40 or over for breast cancer, or chest X-rays or CT scans to look for signs of lung cancer in patients with a significant smoking history.

How did my doctor decide what kind of test to order?

In many cases, more than one type of exam may be suitable for a particular diagnostic purpose. For instance, an MRI or CT scan may be suitable to diagnose certain types of head injuries. Your doctor’s decision as to what kind of test to order, which may be made in consultation with a diagnostic radiologist, may depend on such factors as your medical history, the nature and location of the suspected injury or illness, the number and type of imaging exams you have had in the past, known allergies to contrast material used in some exams, or other factors.

How should I prepare for my test?

The answer depends on such factors as what type of test you are having, the part of the body to be imaged, your age, your medical history and general health, known allergies, and the purpose of the test. While some diagnostic radiology exams require no preparation, others have such requirements as fasting for a period of time before your appointment, or lab tests to ensure that patients who are elderly or have certain medical conditions are able to tolerate contrast material.

Are diagnostic radiology exams safe?

Generally speaking, diagnostic radiology exams are safe, with only very minimal discomfort for the patient—if any—during the exam. The most common safety concern with medical imaging exams is radiation. Some medical imaging exams, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging, do not use radiation and therefore pose no radiation exposure risk.

While the levels of radiation used in medical imaging exams (some of which are lower than the “background radiation” that people are exposed to every day) are controlled and considered generally safe, there is some research evidence that medical radiation exposure may slightly increase risk of certain types of cancer, especially for patients who have had multiple exams involving higher radiation doses, such as CT scans.

However, in virtually all cases the benefit of the exam far outweighs the small elevated risk. The most important safety measure, therefore, is to be sure to keep your physician fully informed of all medical imaging exams that you have, so that your lifetime medical radiation exposure level can be considered in evaluating the best type of exam to order for a given medical situation.