Diagnostic imaging team members vital to patients’ joint replacement journeys

A medical radiation technologist positions a portable x-ray unit around a joint replacement patient to help capture images during a surgery at the Halifax Infirmary.
A medical radiation technologist positions a portable x-ray unit around a joint replacement patient to help capture images during a surgery at the Halifax Infirmary.

Each year, thousands of Nova Scotians undergo hip or joint replacement surgery and each have had an x-ray or other diagnostic imaging at some point to determine the extent of damage to their joint. 

It is no surprise that diagnostic imaging teams across the province have a big role in confirming the need for surgery, but their role doesn’t end there. Medical radiation technologists (MRTs), are key members of our inter-professional joint replacement teams throughout the patient’s journey.

“Our role continues beyond the patient’s diagnosis,” said Chris Connolly, Nova Scotia Health’s director of Diagnostic Imaging Services in western Nova Scotia. “Our teams are also involved with pre-surgical care, during surgery, immediately after surgery and as part of the patient’s follow-up care.”

Surgeons rely on the results of the images these teams generate to develop their surgical plan, including determining how much damaged bone and cartilage must be removed, the size of joint implants to be used and how best to implant the new joint. 

During surgery, MRTs are often present in the operating room to provide additional images. 

At times, MRTs use portable x-ray units in the recovery room after surgery to confirm the surgery has gone as planned. 

Additionally, when patients return for their post-surgery follow-up clinics MRTs capture images that are used to confirm positioning of the joint implant, and that the patient is recovering as expected. 

“On any given orthopedic clinic day, our technologists can be involved in providing dozens of images on joint surgery patients,” said Brian Martell, Nova Scotia Health’s senior director of Diagnostic Imaging Services. “This is in addition to the support we offer for other patients requiring these services, including other surgical patients, patients in our emergency departments and more.”

Since the fall of 2017 Nova Scotia Health has been working to implement a multi-year hip and knee action plan aimed at improving care and access to joint replacement surgeries across the province. 

The plan includes a new intake process and wellness model aimed at optimizing patients for surgery and better supporting them in their recovery. 

More than 90 full time positions have been invested in to date, including additional nurses, nurse practitioners, physiotherapists, dietitians, clerks, occupational therapists, diagnostic imaging staff and more. 

“When planning for the hip and knee strategy, we knew the importance of diagnostic imaging to the care we offered and our plan built in funding to add nearly four additional full time equivalent medical radiation technologist roles at various sites provincially,” said Tracey Watkins-Allen, director of Perioperative (Surgical) Services for hospitals in western Nova Scotia. 

“Having these additional resources means we are better equipped to offer timely access to services and fully-support the hip and knee wellness model,” said Connolly.