If your child is sick or injured, your pediatrician may want him or her to see a radiologist to confirm a suspected diagnosis or exclude a potential problem. Radiologists are doctors who specialize in medical imaging, using different modalities (such as x-rays, ultrasound, CT, or MRI) to see inside the body and make diagnoses. If your child needs such a test, your pediatrician may want your child to be seen specifically by a pediatric radiologist, a radiologist who, after completing a four-year residency in general diagnostic radiology, has undergone an additional year or more of training focusing on the medical imaging of children. Consider these top three reasons when deciding if a pediatric radiologist should be involved in your child’s care.
- We know that kids aren’t just little adults. Just as your pediatrician is specially trained to take care of your child’s health, pediatric radiologists are specially trained to use technology to see inside your child’s body and make diagnoses. Children are different from adults. For one thing, children’s bodies are still developing, and knowing how a child’s body develops allows pediatric radiologists to identify normal structures (such as a growth plate in a bone or the normal thymus in a child’s chest) and not mistake it for an abnormality (such as a fracture or a tumor). In addition, the diseases and problems that affect kids are often different from those that affect adults. Knowing exactly what to look for increases the likelihood that we will find it.
- We know what works best for kids. Radiology is a great field, and we have a lot of different ways to see inside the body. We can use radiation (x-rays and CTs), sound waves (ultrasound) and magnetic fields (MRI). Each of these modalities has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, while x-rays and CT scans give us very detailed images, there are potential dangers in exposing the body to unnecessary radiation. The pediatric radiologists who practice at Wake Radiology tailor their examinations for kids, making sure that we only take the images that we need and use protocols and techniques that limit the overall radiation dose to the body. Ultrasound does not involve radiation so it doesn’t carry the same risks as radiation, but the small field of view and the real-time nature of the exam (unlike the static images of a single x-ray or CT scan) make interpretation extremely tricky. Our pediatric radiologists take pride in the skill required to use ultrasound to make or exclude difficult diagnoses, such as appendicitis. MRIs give great detail and do not involve radiation, but the exams can be long and require patients to stay very still. If a child is scheduled for an MRI, we will make sure that the exam is tailored specifically to that child and get the answers that we need as quickly as possible.
- We know how to work with kids. Adults can generally stay still, understand that tests may take a long time, and be persuaded to cooperate. As all parents know, getting kids to stay still and cooperate isn’t always possible. This is especially true when they are scared or not feeling well. A significant component of a pediatric radiologist’s training is:
- Knowing exactly what we are looking for in kids so that studies can be shorter, but still accurate, and
- Making kids feel at ease so that we can get the study done right. This is especially important when we are doing a hands-on test such as ultrasound for abdominal pain or suspected appendicitis.
Consider these points the next time one of your children needs a radiologist as part of his/her care team.