The 10 most interesting Health Imaging stories of 2019

It’s been a busy year for radiology, and we’ve covered a lot of important topics. It’s no surprise that AI dominated the landscape this past year, but there were still a number of important stories that will likely become trending topics as the specialty continues to evolve.

Below are some of the most interesting, not necessarily most-clicked, stories from 2019:

1. CT scans link vaping to lung disease in healthy patients

The New England Journal of Medicine published one of the earliest imaging-based studies connecting lung disease to vaping on Sept. 9. This disease, now known as e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI), has become national news, and was one of Health Imaging’s most read stories of the year.

2. A majority of AI studies don’t adequately validate methods

Artificial intelligence was once again a big topic of discussion this year, and the focus of many radiology studies. Research published in March warned that most algorithms aren’t properly tested for real-world use. The authors called on radiologists looking at these studies to distinguish between proof-of-concept algorithms and those meant to validate clinical performance.

3. AI alters images to fool radiologists—it may be a target for cyberattacks

When it comes to technology, there always seem to be unintended consequences. Researchers from Zurich demonstrated just that as they created a machine learning network to alter medical images by inserting or removing suspicious features to fool radiologists. Although not all experts were thrown off, the door has been pushed opened for criminals to exploit the tech.

4. Radiologists must take a data-driven approach to discuss gadolinium, mitigate liability risk

This list wouldn’t be complete without a story from 2019's RSNA annual meeting. In a late afternoon session situated in a dead-end hallway in cavernous McCormick Place, a neuroradiologist and attorney gave an impassioned talk on why current data does not support the existence of gadolinium deposition disease, and how radiologists can minimize their risk of malpractice when using contrast agents. It was the most interesting talk I attended at the show.  

5. ACR statement seeks to calm fears over radioactive material in cremated bodies

One of our more bizarre stories of the year included a JAMA study that found traces of radioactivity from a patient on equipment in an Arizona crematorium. The man had been treated with a radioactive contrast agent, and the study led to a cascade of media coverage, along with a bit of hysteria. So much so that the ACR had to issue a statement telling everyone to calm down, ensuring them the radioactivity was hardly even measurable.

6. Only 25% of radiologists are happy at work

The annual Medscape report surveyed more than 15,000 physicians and, unsurprisingly, a majority were happier outside of work. Even more concerning, though, is that 67% said they are not likely to seek help. It’s one of many studies we covered this year highlighting the burnout epidemic plaguing much of medicine.

7. 4 challenges to recruiting the next generation of radiologists

Although medical student applications have remained steady, experts believe radiology must recruit more underrepresented minorities, develop more female leaders and make the profession more visible as a career option if it is to succeed in the upcoming decade.

8. Looking back at SIIM19: 3 takeaways on the future of AI and imaging

The Society of Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM) annual meeting was held just outside of Denver this year, and much of it was dedicated to AI. This story combines all the information from sessions I attended into three compact takeaways. Among the most important: AI is nothing without data.

9. New legislation mandates nationwide breast density notification

As of Feb. 15, federal law requires mammography facilities to include breast density information in reports sent to patients. The legislation directed the FDA to develop standard language for these summaries, which is still under development. Many groups had been pushing for this legislation, and gains in breast density awareness have already been reported.

10. O-RADS: A new reporting system for ovarian, uterine masses

Health Imaging readers like reading research on reporting and data systems. Standardized systems for reporting liver, breast and thyroid nodules are becoming more widespread and boosting radiologists’ efficiency. O-RADS, designed to bring consistency and accuracy to ovarian masses, hopes to do the same.