Diagnostic testing: What to expect when your doctor has ordered imaging
What is diagnostic imaging and what are the types?
Diagnostic imaging refers to various ways of using electromagnetic waves and other technologies to create images of the internal structures of your body. These common tests are used by doctors to diagnose, monitor, and treat medical conditions. There are many different types of diagnostic screening, and your doctor will select the type that will give the best view of the affected body part. Here are a few of the most commonly used types of diagnostic images:
- X-ray: A quick test usually used to see bones. This test is non-invasive, and painless.
- Computed Tomography (CT): A CT scan is a specialized type of X-ray that takes pictures as it rotates around a body part, giving doctors an image that shows a cross-section or "slice" of the body. This test is quick, non-invasive, and painless.
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET): A PET scan uses a "tracer," which is fluid given by IV that is visible on the X-ray film. This allows doctors to see certain areas more clearly. This test is quick, non-invasive, and painless. The tracer may take some time to absorb into your body.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) (with or without contrast): MRI is an imaging technique that uses very strong magnets along with radio waves to create images of the body, including soft structures like veins, kidneys, your heart, or your brain. This test is painless and non-invasive but can take more time to capture than other types of tests. MRIs typically take about 30-45 minutes.
- Ultrasound or sonogram: A diagnostic screening technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of things within the body like gallbladder, uterus, blood flow, joint inflammation, or glands. Ultrasound tests are quick, non-invasive, and painless.
- Mammogram: A mammogram is a specialized form of x-ray designed to take images of the breast. Regular mammograms are one of the best ways to detect early signs of breast cancer or changes in breast tissue. A machine will firmly hold your breast still for the test, which can be uncomfortable for some people. Fortunately, mammograms are quick and non-invasive, so the discomfort will be over soon.
- Reid Health Breast Center offers Breast Tomosynthesis, or 3D Mammography, which is state-of-the-art technology that is proven to detect breast cancer better than traditional mammography alone. This mammography allows for many X-ray pictures to be taken of the breast at various angles to build a 3-dimmension picture. This helps providers detect malignant tumors better than standard 2D mammography.
You can find a list of Reid Health's imaging services on this page.
What can I expect when my doctor schedules a diagnostic screening?
If your doctor has ordered a diagnostic test at Reid Health, it means they want to find more information about the structures in your body, which can help them to diagnose and treat your symptoms. Fortunately, the state-of-the-art imaging equipment at Reid Health ensures your doctor will receive the best quality images to support your treatment.
The imaging process can seem confusing or even cause anxiety. According to Gene DiTullio, Director of Radiology Services at Reid Health, every member of the Reid Health staff is there to help make the process easy, safe, and comfortable for you. "We want you to feel comfortable with every step of the diagnostic imaging process. Our staff are very experienced and understand that this process can feel hard to understand and that you might even be worried about the results." Remember, he suggests, that everyone on the team is there to help and can answer any questions you have.
Here's what you need to know about the diagnostic imaging process to help you feel prepared and ready for your test.
- Your doctor will order a test and work with the scheduling department to create your appointment. This is a great time for you to work with the scheduling department and/or doctor's office to make sure the appointment time works for you.
- Behind the scenes, your doctor's office will coordinate details of your test with your insurance company. Most of the time, this happens without you needing to do anything. If you have questions about your out-of-pocket costs, you should reach out to your insurance company. They can give you an estimated cost based on your coverage.
- If needed, a technician will call you with information to help you prepare for your test. Some types of tests, like MRI, CT scan, PET scan, mammogram, and any test that uses a contrast agent or tracer, requires you to take special steps to prepare. For example, with a mammogram, it's important that you don't wear deodorant on the day of your test, and with MRI, it's important to leave magnetic objects outside of the test room. Because some of these tests (like MRI and CT scans) may require you to be in enclosed spaces, your doctor's office may also reach out to you about ways to manage claustrophobia or anxiety. If any of these cases apply to your test, someone will reach out to you prior to test day to make sure you have all of the information you need to be ready.
- On test day, arrive at your appointment time to register for your test. Make sure you bring your ID and insurance card. Staff will help you register for your test, collect patient information, and answer any questions you have about your test.
- Get ready for your test. With the help of a technician, you'll prepare for the test. Depending on the type of diagnostic screening your doctor ordered, this might include changing into a gown, removing metal objects like bracelets or belts, receiving tracing or contrast agent, or taking medication to help manage claustrophobia or anxiety.
- Have the testing done, following the technician's instructions about what to do during your test. The technician helping you will provide you with specific instructions about what you'll need to do during the test. Usually, this involves simply standing or laying still while the machines take pictures. Always remember that the technician can answer any questions you have about the test process, so don't hesitate to ask.
- Head home and wait for results. In most cases, you won't receive your test results at the imaging facility. Your doctor's office will call you in the next few days to discuss your results and schedule any follow-up appointments needed.
If your doctor has ordered diagnostic imaging, understanding the process can help you feel more in control and keep you focused on your test results and overall health. For more information about precision diagnostic imaging or Reid Health's capabilities, visit Reid Health Radiology Services.