You may never meet your radiologist face-to-face but these highly specialized physicians are vital to your care. Learn more about the role of a radiologist in the following questions and answers.
A radiologist is a physician (MD or DO) who attended four years of medical school and five years of residency. Most radiologists have also completed an additional one to two years of fellowship training to focus on one particular area of the body.
Many people confuse radiologists with radiologic technologists or sonographers. The technologists are the people specially trained to perform imaging exams. For example, the people who take the X-ray pictures or perform an ultrasound.
However, the radiologist is the doctor specially trained to interpret the images that are taken by the technologist and the imaging machine.
Radiologists are trained to interpret the images obtained from all diagnostic imaging procedures, including: X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, mammograms, ultrasounds, PET scans, nuclear medicine scans and SPECT scans.
Depending on the type of imaging study there may be only a few images (pictures) to interpret, or there may be several hundred images. Imaging technology is always advancing with new types of scans or higher resolution images, which is why most radiologists specialize in a particular area of the body. They are an expert in this particular area and keep up with all of new the imaging tests available.
Diagnostic radiologists help make diagnoses. Radiologists help other doctors arrive at diagnoses to explain the patient’s clinical symptoms. They are a part of the medical team but are usually "behind the scenes."
When another doctor orders an imaging test on a patient, the radiologic technologist performs the exam, then the diagnostic radiologist looks at the images/pictures obtained to determine if there is anything abnormal. The radiologist then creates a report that is provided back to the ordering doctor, so the best treatment can be provided to the patient.
Sometimes radiologists use imaging to perform diagnostic procedures, like performing a thyroid biopsy using ultrasound guidance or a lung biopsy using CT guidance. This is known as interventional radiology.
Interventional radiologists are specially trained radiologists who not only use image guidance for diagnostic procedures, but also perform other procedures like port placements.