Over the past 30 years we have learned of a new epidemic affecting a vast number of people. We can see the effects of this epidemic all around us and though it may not be contagious it is a condition that we are all at risk of; obesity. The Center for Disease Control estimates that approximately 64% of the US population could be considered obese and has been spreading the word about what this means for individuals' health. However, what we also need to consider is what this epidemic means for the healthcare community as a whole.
Adapting to the growing obese population has been an ongoing problem in every realm of healthcare, from anesthesiology to a variety of surgical procedures. The same holds true in the field of radiology. When assessing an obese patient a radiologist must ask a series of questions to determine the best technique for imaging. This is a challenge because imaging, when done incorrectly, can mean discomfort for an obese patient. Equipment must be used appropriately and the equipment must be modified to maintain the highest image quality. Of course there are always suitable options so that every patient can receive the care they deserve. Obese patients often opt for High Field Open MRIs so that they have more room, which limits their choices of providers to those that have that modality.
It is also not uncommon for standard imaging parameters to be insufficient in penetrating extra layers of fat. Imaging studies are useful for surgeons prior to an operation and as the population of patients that are unable to be imaged grows, surgeons are not as easily able to treat patients due to the lack of imaging guidance. Many radiologists agree that images of patients weighing over 300 lbs grow increasingly more difficult to read, thus increasing the likelihood of a radiologist error due.
To solve this issue, imaging vendors are developing larger machines with larger weight maximums to accommodate the growing number of patients that need them. This is growing more common in hospital systems where modified beds, operation tables and radiology equipment are being purchased more often, as to care for patients that make up the majority of the population.
The reality remains that obesity is affecting the US population at an alarming rate. As the need for imaging of the obese patient population increases, the healthcare industry is forced to make adjustments to serve the needs of those who are commonly most at risk for complications necessitating imaging.