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How are Portable X-rays Enhancing Healthcare in Remote Areas?

Radiographer Sam Pilkington has emphasised the life-saving importance of portable X-ray machines. These devices are particularly beneficial for patients who are critically ill or require strict infection control, as they can be brought directly to the patient’s bedside, eliminating the need for potentially burdensome transportation.

The utility of portable X-ray systems is increasingly recognised, especially in remote settings such as battlefields and disaster areas. The market for these devices has seen significant growth, partly fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Valued at £5.6 billion ($7.1bn) last year, it’s projected to nearly double by 2028.

There are primarily two types of these X-ray machines: the larger, wheeled “mobile” units and the lighter, handheld “ultraportable” models. The effectiveness of the latter was demonstrated in a trial on Scotland’s Orkney Islands, where the use of Fujifilm’s ultraportable Xair device led to a remarkable drop in missed appointments for X-rays.

German firm OR Technology is one of the companies witnessing a surge in demand from emerging markets, where portable X-ray machines are transforming the detection and treatment of tuberculosis. Suvanand Sahu from the Stop TB Partnership points out the pivotal role these machines play in regions with limited access to hospitals. They often come equipped with AI software, enhancing the speed and accuracy of diagnostics.

Concerns remain about the radiation exposure from these portable units, which function similarly to their larger, hospital-based counterparts but without the same level of shielding. However, the use of these machines in more spacious settings, like field hospitals, helps mitigate this issue.

Despite improvements in image quality, there are still challenges in reducing the size of X-ray machine components without compromising their effectiveness or safety. Factors like battery life and data storage capacity also constrain their usage.

Australian company Micro-X is making strides in this area, developing lighter ultraportable machines that eliminate the need for cooling components, thus reducing their weight. Nevertheless, the high cost of these machines remains a significant hurdle, though it’s hoped that increased competition will lead to more affordable prices.

The aspiration, according to Dr. Suvanand, is to ensure that everyone in need has access to these advanced, digital, ultraportable X-ray machines equipped with AI technology.

Source: How portable X-ray machines are helping remote patients. (2024). BBC News. [online] 8 Jan. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-67871981 [Accessed 8 Jan. 2024].

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