Researchers affiliated with the NIOSH Surveillance Branch have released a study which supports the use of digital radiography in the black lung context.
As described by the abstract, Drs. Cara N. Halldin, Edward L. Petsonk, & A. Scott Laney compared seven radiologists’ interpretations of both digital and film radiography for 172 miners. The study found no appreciable difference based on the technology used. Their article is titled “Validation of the International Labour Office Digitized Standard Images for Recognition and Classification of Radiographs of Pneumoconiosis” and is being published by the Journal of Academic Radiology.
The use of digital radiography is of more than academic interest because using digital radiography would expand the number of radiologists who can participate in the black lung benefits system. Currently many radiologists use digital radiography rather than traditional film-screen x-rays, but the regulations do not treat digital radiography as equal to film-screen radiography. If more radiologists could participate in the black lung benefit system, some delays would be reduced, especially in areas of the country where radiologists do not encounter enough black lung to justify investing in film-screen technology. (The practical reasons to support digital radiography are also explained by Steve Breeskin in a blog post that he did for the Department of Labor.)
This study supports the Department of Labor’s previous effort to update the regulations to allow for digital radiography to be treated equally with film-screen radiography, and consequently, to expand the market of participating radiologists. Last year, the Department of Labor proposed a rule that would put digital radiographs on equal footing with film-screen radiography, however on August 30, 2013 the rule was withdrawn because of significant adverse comments. The Department of Labor should revise the rule in light of the comments and reissue it this year.