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Diagnostic imaging provides clear picture

Airman 1st Class Krysta Haines, 21st Medical Support Squadron diagnostic imaging technician, allows other technicians to line up the X-ray machine for a training sinus X-ray at the 21st Medical Group clinic Feb. 18. One afternoon a month, the 21st MDG has downtime for training. The diagnostic imaging section took the time to perfect difficult X-ray positions and go over amount of radiation needed. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jacob Morgan)

Airman 1st Class Krysta Haines, 21st Medical Support Squadron diagnostic imaging technician, allows other technicians to line up the X-ray machine for a training sinus X-ray at the 21st Medical Group clinic Feb. 18. One afternoon a month, the 21st MDG has downtime for training. The diagnostic imaging section took the time to perfect difficult X-ray positions and go over amount of radiation needed. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jacob Morgan)

Tech. Sgt. Jerry Watts Jr., 21st Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of diagnostic imaging, uses an ultrasound machine to check the thyroid of Senior Airman Andrew Bull during training at the 21st Medical Group clinic Feb. 18. Watts is currently the only qualified sonographer with the 21st MDSS performing on average 10 sonograms a day. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jacob Morgan)

Tech. Sgt. Jerry Watts Jr., 21st Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of diagnostic imaging, uses an ultrasound machine to check the thyroid of Senior Airman Andrew Bull during training at the 21st Medical Group clinic Feb. 18. Watts is currently the only qualified sonographer with the 21st MDSS performing on average 10 sonograms a day. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jacob Morgan)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- X-rays, mammograms and ultra-sounds are used for some of the most serious medical diagnostic work. From bone infections to breast cancer, the angle and contrast of an image can determine the accuracy of a diagnosis. With severe injuries and life threatening illnesses in the balance, the 21st Medical Support Squadron diagnostic imaging section works hard to make sure they are right the first time.

From the start, when a patient visits the front counter or calls in, a technician reviews the situation. Because the physical characteristics of a person matter greatly with diagnostic imaging, the technician must take into account body weight, height, bone structure and minor details -- down to the angle of toes -- in some X-rays.

Senior Airman Andrew Bull, 21st MDSS diagnostic imaging technician, currently works on X-ray, where he spent nearly two years being trained in his specialty.

"X-rays are the foundation for everything else in diagnostic imaging," said Bull. "It's a great job because I get one-on-one interaction with the patient and I am constantly involved in patient care."

Initially, being an X-ray technician is extremely difficult; it's not a textbook job because every person is different, said Bull. There is a lot of anatomy and physics involved in every appointment. With radiation being involved, getting the right picture and contrast the first time is important to each X-ray technician.

"We have a lot of different techniques for X-raying certain body parts," said Bull. "However, the same position doesn't work for everyone; it's called body habitus, we are almost looking through someone's body before we X-ray them."

One X-ray goes through quality control checks before the radiologist sees it. The technician who took the X-ray checks for things such as contrast and exposure at the joints; some common problems include too much rotation at the joint and not enough radiation to expose the image properly.

In addition to X-ray, the 21st MDSS diagnostic imaging section also performs sonograms and mammograms, with one specialist for each.

Watts, who is also the NCO in charge, performs on average 10 ultrasounds a day, using sound waves to image different parts of the body. He will summarize his findings for a physician to diagnose.

Julie Holden, the only mammographer with the 21st MDSS, uses low energy X-rays in order to scan breasts for a radiologist who will look for masses or micro calcifications to diagnose breast cancer. Holden's program was recently inspected by the Food and Drug Administration and received a perfect rating.

"We are trying to provide the most care possible to our patients," said Watts. "We have two X-ray rooms, one mammography room and one ultrasound room. Because of our location and service we have a lot of patients who want to come in. Sometimes our monthly schedule will fill up within five days of its start."

While X-ray is a walk-in service and the ultrasound and mammography sections require appointments, each service requires a physician's referral. Retirees, active-duty members and their families can call 524-CARE to schedule an appointment and utilize the diagnostic imaging section.

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