How Radiologists Determine Left And Right On X-Rays

Because the human skeleton has bilateral symmetry, meaning that the left side and right side look identical for the most part. Individuals may have certain distinctions, such as a fore-shortened or missing limb, but the average person’s left side is not distinguishable from the right side on an x-ray. That poses a challenge for x-ray technicians and the radiologist who reads the results.

Mistakes Are Serious

X-ray technicians utilize x ray markers to identify the left and right side of an image. If technicians fail to use xray markers or use them incorrectly, the outcome can be very serious. In the best case, the radiologist and doctor will notice a discrepancy and have to take the time to get it resolved. While the problem is being solved, the patient’s treatment is being delayed. In the worst case scenario, the patient actually has a procedure done to the wrong body part. There have even been cases of doctors amputating the wrong limb due to a mistaken reading of an x-ray.

Another Type Of Marker

In addition to body symmetry, the nature of x-ray film is another complicating factor. An x-ray looks the same on both sides, so it’s impossible to tell which is the back and which is the front without some kind of marker. Besides the standard x-ray markers that indicate left and right, another option is to mark the exposure side of the film. If it is known which side of the film faces the patient, it is easy to figure out which side is left and which is right.

Knowing Standard Projections

X-ray technicians also need to be aware of the standard projections for different body parts. For example, x-rays of the hand are almost always taken with the palm down, while arm x-rays are taken with the arm resting prone on a table. However, there are some circumstances when x-rays are taken in non-standard ways. For example, if a patient is unable to get out of bed, or when the doctors order a special view, it is especially important to have x ray markers in place, since radiologists won’t be able to rely on standard projections.

When x-rays are clearly marked, it’s easy for the radiologist to read and interpret the images. However, reading x-rays is not an exact science, and it is always possible that a radiologist can make a mistake. That’s why it’s so important that technician use markers appropriately to remove one potential source of error.


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