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Medical Interpreting: Most Common Scans

As a medical interpreter, two of the most common appointments you’ll attend will be scan-prep and scans themselves. Providers can order a scan at any time during a general or specialist appointment—or occasionally, even over the phone. In this installment of our Medical Interpreting series, we’ll cover some of the most common scans you’ll encounter while interpreting.

What are the Most Common Scans You’ll Encounter as an Interpreter?

When a provider orders scans, it should never be a full surprise to the patient. The provider should explain their reasons for ordering the scan as well as the scan procedure in detail. While this explanation should be in clear language, it’s always useful as an interpreter to have background information and knowledge. Here are some simple explanations for the most common scans you’ll encounter as an interpreter.


Medical Interpreting: Most Common Scans

Common Scans types:

  • X-Ray:

    • An X-Ray (often called a radiograph) uses electromagnetic radiation that passes through soft tissue and is absorbed by hard tissue (like bones). The X-Ray film develops much like camera film: showing the areas exposed to radiation and where the radiation was absorbed in stark contrast.
  • CT Scan:

    • Also known as a CAT scan (Computerized Axial Tomography), CT scans evolved from Tomographs. Tomographs are multiple x-rays taken at different levels to check the depth of an abnormality. The CT scan uses multiple x-ray beams projected at many angles in conjunction with computer resources. The result is a three-dimensional cross-sectional image. Each image reveals a different level of tissue that resembles “slices.”
  • MRI:

    • Magnetic Resonance Imaging is also known as nuclear magnetic resonance imaging. MRIs differ from CT scans and X-rays in that there’s no exposure to radiation during the scan. MRIs use two powerful magnets (one external and one internal) that align the hydrogen proton “spins” in the body. The scanner also produces a radio frequency current that creates a varying magnetic field. The protons absorb the energy from the magnetic field and flip their spins. When the field is turned off, the protons gradually return to their normal spin, a process called precession. The return process produces a radio signal that is measured by receivers in the scanner and made into an image. The machine captures the image and processes it with a computer. Contrast is often intravenously pumped during the scan and provides more dynamic images.
  • PET scans:

    • Positron Emission Tomography is a scan that measures the metabolic activity that occurs in body tissue. The scan works by detecting concentrations of photons emitted by radionuclides. For example, in PET scans of the brain, a radioactive atom is applied to glucose (blood sugar). This is because the brain uses glucose for its metabolism. This process creates a radionuclide called fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG). FDG is widely used in PET scanning. Before being scanned, a patient abstains from eating carbohydrates for 12-24 hours. Directly before the scan, they drink a glucose concoction with these radioactive atoms. Contrast is often intravenously pumped during the scan. Because cancer cells metabolize more glucose than healthy cells, the image shows the higher concentrations of glucose metabolism. The higher concentrations on the image indicate where cancer is most likely found.
  • Ultrasounds:

    • Ultrasound machines transmit high frequency sound pulses into the body with a probe. The sound waves hit boundaries between tissues (for example, fluid and soft tissue, soft tissue and bone). The sound waves are reflected at different depths/boundaries and are picked up by the probe and relayed to the machine. The machine calculates the distances between the different boundaries. Then, it displays the distances and intensities on a screen, showing a two-dimensional image.

Medical Terminology for Interpreters: an eLearning course by Global Arena

Want to learn more about medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology? Are you pressed for time, and need to be able to take a course at your own pace? Global Arena’s eLearning course, Medical Terminology for Interpreters, gives foundational medical knowledge for all interpreting skill levels. It provides a basic overview of common providers, appointments, scans, procedures, and the bodily systems.

The course is timed for three hours and includes a mix of interactive, informative, and review slides. Upon successful completion of all reviews, you’ll receive a Certificate of Course Completion worth three CEUs. The course meets CCHI and NBCMI standards for interpreter training and counts towards your credit hours for exam pre-requisites. You’ll also receive our Medical Terminology glossary, complete with spaces to add vocabulary in your target language. The course is updated regularly, and registration includes lifetime access to all new information and materials. Click the link to learn more and sign up today!

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