Dry X-Ray Films: A Vital Solution for Resource-Constrained Healthcare Settings

23 Jan 2024

In many parts of the world, access to medical resources, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, remains a significant challenge.  

In such resource-constrained healthcare settings, the scarcity of financial resources often prevents healthcare facilities from acquiring and maintaining expensive medical equipment and supplies such as digital radiography machines. This limitation makes it challenging to provide proper medical care and diagnosis to patients in need, leading to poor health outcomes and increased morbidity and mortality rates.  

As a result, healthcare providers in such settings have to rely on alternative, lower-cost options such as dry X-Ray films to provide radiographic services to their patients. Dry X-Ray films can save thousands of dollars and provide an attractive option for such resource-constrained healthcare settings. 

This article explores the advantages of using low-cost dry X-Ray films as an alternative to traditional wet films and digital radiography and how they can help to improve patient outcomes in under-resourced areas. 

What is a dry X-Ray film?  

Dry X-ray film is a type of film that utilizes digital printing and can be handled in a well-lit environment with no involvement of chemicals and various steps of processing. It has excellent grayscale and contrast, high resolution, and high density, making it the preferred option for digital radiography imaging. 

Major Applications of Dry X-Ray Films 

1.    Dry Thermal Imager

A dry thermal imager is a type of X-Ray machine that produces images by using thermal printing technology instead of traditional wet film processing or digital imaging systems. In a dry thermal imager, X-Ray images are captured by a digital detector and then printed on dry X-Ray film using heat to create an image that can be interpreted by a radiologist. 

The dry thermal X-Ray imager consists of two main components, namely, the printer and the digital detector. The digital detector captures the X-Ray image and sends it to the printer unit, which then uses heat to print the image on the dry X-Ray film. The film is coated with a heat-sensitive material that changes color when heated, creating an image that can be interpreted by a radiologist.  

Dry thermal X-Ray imagers are commonly used in a variety of medical imaging applications, including mammography, orthopedics, and general radiography. They are particularly useful in emergency departments and intensive care units, where rapid image acquisition is crucial for patient care. 

Dry thermal X-Ray imagers offer a more affordable alternative to digital imaging systems, making them a popular choice in low-resource settings. 

 2.    Dry Laser X-Ray Imager 

A dry laser X-Ray imager is a type of X-Ray imaging system that utilizes laser printing technology to generate X-Ray images. This type of system uses a digital detector to capture X-Ray images and the photostimulable storage phosphor (PSP) imaging method to store the X-Ray images. 

In this method, the PSP plate is scanned by a laser beam that releases the stored energy and creates a digital image on the dry X-Ray film. The dry laser X-Ray imager uses a red or green laser that produces high-resolution images with sharp details and contrast.  

The dry laser X-Ray imager is useful in various medical imaging applications, such as general radiography, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. It is particularly advantageous in situations where high-quality digital images are required, like in cancer screening or diagnostic imaging procedures. Furthermore, dry laser X-Ray imagers are often smaller and more lightweight than other imaging systems, making them easier to move and operate in different locations. 

Suitability of Dry X-Ray Films for Resource-Constrained Healthcare Settings

1.    Cost-Effectiveness: 

In many developing economies, healthcare institutions face financial constraints and may not have sufficient funds to invest in costly digital imaging systems. 

Moreover, in 2021, according to a report by Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) titled "Health at a Glance," healthcare spending is limited in various emerging countries, including India, China, Mexico, and Africa. As a result, dry X-Ray film systems are a cost-effective option that allows healthcare facilities to offer X-Ray imaging services to patients without incurring high expenses. For example, the cost of a digital radiography X-Ray imaging system can range from $50,000 to $200,000 or more, depending on the system model, features, capabilities, manufacturer, and vendor. 

In contrast, the average cost of dry X-Ray film ranges from $1 to $3 per sheet, with larger sizes being more expensive than smaller sizes. Furthermore, the cost of an "AGFA DRYSTAR 5302" X-Ray imager, according to a distributor named Bimedis, is around $3,232, making it more affordable than digital X-Ray machines. 

2.    No Requirement for Darkroom or Multiple Processes: 

Dry X-Ray films offer easy-to-use daylight loading, which means that neither a darkroom nor wet processing is needed. This eliminates the need for costly equipment and infrastructure, making dry X-Ray films a practical option for low-resource settings where resources are limited. 

3.    Safe and Non-Hazardous: 

As stated in a January 2020 article titled "Paging Doctors and Dentists: It's Time to Talk About X-Ray Waste" by the Hazardous Waste Experts, various materials utilized in the traditional darkroom method of X-Ray film development, including the X-Ray developer, X-Ray fixer, X-Ray films, and lead aprons and foils, can pose significant environmental hazards if not disposed of properly. 

In contrast, dry X-Ray films eliminate the need for these chemicals and the darkroom, making them a safer and more environment-friendly option for medical facilities that may not have the infrastructure or resources to manage hazardous waste. 

4.    Portability: 

Another advantage of dry X-Ray films is their portability. The equipment required for dry X-Ray films is lightweight and can be easily transported to remote areas where X-Ray services may not be readily available. This makes them an essential tool for disaster response teams and medical professionals working in low-resource settings. 

5.    Reliability: 

Dry X-Ray films provide a reliable means of diagnosis, especially when trained personnel and specialized equipment are not available. The traditional process of dry X-Ray diagnosis has been used by radiologists for a long time, and they are well-trained in the interpretation of the images. 

6.    Hard Copy of X-Ray Image: 

Dry X-Ray films provide the convenience of having a hard copy of the X-Ray image, which can be especially important in regions where digital imaging infrastructure is limited. This allows medical professionals to share images and diagnose patients more efficiently. 

 7.    No Need for Steady Power Supply: 

In emerging economies, there is limited availability of digital imaging systems, which require advanced equipment, established infrastructure, and a steady power supply to operate. Moreover, in some remote areas, there may not be access to the necessary infrastructure or electricity to support digital imaging systems. However, dry X-Ray film systems require minimal infrastructure and can function easily with limited access to electricity, making them a more practical solution for medical facilities in low-resource settings. 

The lack of advanced digital imaging systems and the burden of heightened demand for medical imaging has made dry X-Ray films a viable solution for these low income regions, which is expected to raise their demand and growth in the market. 

According to data insights from BIS Research, the global dry X-Ray film market was valued at $924.7 million in 2022 and is anticipated to reach $1,112.2 million by 2032, witnessing a CAGR of 1.86% during the forecast period 2022-2032.   

8.    Ease of Use: 

The equipment required for dry X-Ray films is simple to use and does not require specialized training or expertise in computer technology. This makes them a practical option for medical professionals working in low-resource settings who may not have access to specialized training. 

9.    Flexibility: 

Dry X-Ray films offer a degree of flexibility that digital imaging systems cannot match. In emergency situations, dry X-Ray films can be used without the need for a power supply or advanced equipment, making them an essential tool for disaster response teams and medical professionals working in remote areas. 

10.    Long-Term Storage: 

Dry X-Ray films can be stored for an extended period, making them a practical option for medical facilities that may not have access to digital archiving systems. This allows medical professionals to retrieve and review images as needed without the need for costly infrastructure or equipment. 

The Future of Dry X-Ray Films Market

The market for dry X-Ray films in emerging economies presents a significant opportunity for growth in the coming years, driven by factors such as the limited availability of digital imaging systems, the growing need for diagnostic imaging services, and government initiatives to improve healthcare services. Furthermore, dry thermal and laser X-Ray imagers have expanded the capabilities of dry X-Ray films, allowing for rapid and high-quality digital imaging in emergency departments, intensive care units, and other medical imaging applications. 

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