The impact of clinical imaging technology on nursing and nursing education


Clinical imaging technology has been used in healthcare for over 100 years, but recent cutting-edge developments such as 3D imaging and virtual reality have the potential to revolutionize the medical field. Today’s nurses are on the front line of clinical imaging use, and these innovations are improving nursing education by providing realistic simulations and unprecedented insights during the learning process. Clinical imaging is an invaluable teaching tool as well to greatly enhance the likelihood of positive patient outcomes.

Early history

The beginning of clinical imaging technology can be traced back to the accidental discovery of X-rays in 1895, leading to the modern science of radiography. Since then, other technologies have been developed to give a sophisticated view of the human body’s inner workings without the need for invasive exploratory surgery.

Ultrasound imaging was pioneered in the 1960s to detect tumors and other growths. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed topography (CT) and positron emission technology (PET) scanning all arrived in the following decade. These technologies increased the ability of nurses and other medical professionals to view internal organs and processes safely and accurately. In the 1990s, PET and CT scans were combined, allowing the first 3D images of cancer growths and other anomalies to be created and studied.

The modern age

The 21st century has seen further leaps forward and breakthroughs in clinical or medical imaging technology. The phenomenal growth of artificial intelligence (AI) over the last decade or so has contributed to improved imaging techniques as computers collect and analyze information considerably faster and more accurately than human minds.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies have also developed alongside AI, allowing for increasingly realistic, complex, and flexible simulations that go beyond what we would otherwise be able to perceive. These offer the possibility of new insights, discoveries, and breakthroughs, both in individual cases and in medical science overall.

Nursing education

Technological advancements in clinical imagery are also affecting the development of nursing as a healthcare profession, namely through educational applications. Learning about these new developments and how to utilize them is an integral part of curriculums in courses offered by accredited schools, such as the Online MSN-FNP program provided by Carson-Newman University.

The program’s coursework is delivered 100% online, facilitating a positive work-life balance and increased accessibility for students, while clinical site placement opportunities are available for students. The program will allow them to tackle and build on current-day nursing issues and trends with the support of professionals in a structured working environment.

nursing issues and trends

Among these advancements, the increased use of AI and VR in nursing education allows the creation of realistic, immersive simulations to represent structures or procedures that would otherwise be difficult for students to visualize and understand. Anatomical cross-sections, molecular constructions and complex medical conditions can all be accurately simulated to provide immediate, detailed examples of the matter under discussion, turning a complicated abstract problem into a visceral phenomenon.

Artificial intelligence

Examples of AI imaging in practice today include DeepMind from Google and ProFound AI from iCad, both of which are used in breast cancer screening. The cardiac MRI segmentation and analysis model makes real-time diagnoses of cardiovascular disease, while EchoPixel’s True 3D VR platform is used by surgeons to prepare for difficult procedures and can equally be deployed for nursing students.

AI can also be used to automate mundane medical processes, improving efficiency and communication. Augmented intelligence combines AI, AR and human intelligence to make diagnoses with maximum accuracy, as clinical imaging and computer technology support professional insights, instinct and understanding.

Early detection

By placing a small amount of radioactive material inside a patient’s body, medical professionals and nurses can use nuclear imaging to track the substance and, in this way, detect common health conditions such as gallbladder problems or thyroid disease. Recently, amyloid PET imaging has helped to detect Alzheimer’s disease in patients when it is still in its early stages, allowing for more effective treatment.

Mobile technology

The development of mobile and wearable imaging technologies has made analysis and early diagnosis of conditions more flexible and versatile. Not only do these technologies allow patients to be monitored without them necessarily requiring a hospital visit, but they can also be used to measure and model activity while a person is in motion.

One example is the MRI glove, which gives a detailed 3D image of the hand’s anatomy while it moves and flexes. Another example is the mobile magnetoencephalography (MEG) scanner, which can be used to study brain activity while a person is in motion. This has been used to diagnose epilepsy among other procedures.

3D imaging

3D printing is another form of imaging technology that has been deployed effectively in nursing education. By creating three-dimensional models of specific body areas, or of tumors and growths, teachers can help students to better visualize the procedures and conditions they are learning about. 3D printed models can also be used to educate patients and so allow them to make informed decisions about their treatment.

‘True’ 3D imaging creates a hologram image of an organ or the whole body that can be rotated and cut into sections for closer analysis. This interactive replica can be used both for planning complex surgical procedures or interventions and for teaching nursing students in the classroom, lecture theater or clinical simulation lab.

New image slices can also be obtained from a 3D model using multiplanar reconstruction (MPR), showing different planes from the original image. These can be used to study complex internal organs such as the aorta, again making them an invaluable teaching tool.

Education in a changing world

Tomorrow’s nurses will be entering a fast-changing world where new technologies are being constantly introduced to make medical procedures faster and more effective. This means that nursing education must also be more complex and in-depth so that new nurses are prepared to work with the latest technical innovations.

Nursing will always be patient-focused, and a nurse’s role is to provide genuine, empathetic human contact for those in their care. However, imaging technology can greatly enhance their understanding of the patient’s medical condition and can also be used as a means of communication between nurses and patients as they use the images to explain a condition or procedure.

Just as nurse educators use the latest imaging technology to prepare their students for the modern medical workplace, so the same technology can enhance the nurse-patient relationship, bringing clearer understanding and insight to everyone concerned.

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