What is Medical Physics? PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 26 October 2010 10:30


Medical Physics is a branch of applied physics which uses scientific (mainly physics) principles, methods and techniques in practice and research for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human diseases with a specific goal of improving human health and well-being. A Medical Physicist is a professionally qualified person with specialist education and training in the concepts and techniques of applying physics in medicine.

Medical physicists are concerned with three areas of service delivery: clinical service and consultation, research and development, and teaching.

Focus on areas of speciality medical imaging

Medical Physicists involved in medical imaging use principles of physics to optimise the quality of images produced from imaging procedures such as: X-rays, Ultrasound and Endoscopy. The medical physicist working in a hospital medical imaging environment works closely with other healthcare professionals to provide ongoing evaluation of imaging techniques to ensure the best clinical outcome. The medical physicist may also be involved in research and development of imaging techniques for the ultimate benefit of patients. This can include basic physics research e.g. development of new imaging detectors, or collaboration with clinical colleagues in developing new techniques with existing imaging systems e.g. the assessment of absolute organ function in nuclear medicine or tissue characterisation in CT, MRI or Ultrasound.

Treatment of disease

The Medical Physicist may be involved in areas of treatment directly such as treatment planning in radiotherapy, and in-directly by ensuring that the output of therapy devices is as is expected. Examples of how some diseases are treated with the principles of physics are:

  • Cancer with radiotherapy and photodynamic therapy (PDT).
  • Thyrotoxicosis (overactive thyroid gland) with radioiodine therapy.
  • Eczema and Psoriasis with Psoralen and UVA (PUVA), and UVB radiation.
  • Physiotherapy treatments make use of laser, ultrasound, shortwave, and electrical energy.
  • Laser and diathermy (electrical energy) are used in surgery as surgical knives and to coagulate.

The Medical Physicist may also be involved in the research and development of new therapeutic devices, the education and optimisation of therapeutic device use, and the introduction of new therapeutic devices the clinical setting. Physiological Measurement: Medical Physicists work with other health care professionals to introduce and develop the use of new physiological measurement technology in the clinical environment. Physiological measurement technology provides a quantitative assessment and visualization of physiological function. Physiological measurement of one form or another is the most widespread diagnostic methodology available to clinicians and underpins patient monitoring and treatment in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU); the operating theatre during anaesthesia and it is an integral part of many services such as cardiology, neurology and respiratory medicine. A medical physicist ensures the quality of these measurements, to allow valid diagnosis, through equipment evaluation. The medical physicist may also be involved in research, development and teaching involving physiological measurement.

Quality assurance and safety standard application for the protection of patients and staff

Medical physicists are involved in the development of protocols and local guidelines to ensure safe operation of clinical equipment. They liaise with other healthcare professionals to make certain that equipment is being used in a safe and efficient manner. They also perform a critical examination of clinical equipment in order to ensure it meets recommended standards to ensure patient and staff safety. Medical physicists are responsible for measuring and calculating radiation doses and regularly monitoring radiation equipment to protect staff and patients from excessive exposure to radiation. This applies to both ionising sources such as X-ray’s and Nuclear Medicine injections; and non-ionising radiation sources like Ultraviolet light, Ultrasound, MRI and Lasers. They use scientific principles to protect both people and the environment from the harmful effects of radiation. Medical Computing and Mathematics: In combination with their work in radiation physics, imaging physics, measurement, treatment regimes and diagnosis medical physics get involved in computational mathematics. This can be used in areas such as signal processing, digital image processing, control systems and image archiving. It relates very directly to the physics role in medical informatics, telemedicine, picture archiving and communication systems (PACS), tomographic image reconstruction and other advanced digital imaging areas.

Typical work activities

  • Commissioning new equipment.
  • Monitoring equipment to ensure that correct and consistent results or outputs are achieved.
  • Liaising closely with doctors to add technical results to their clinical reports.
  • Assisting in changes to patient diagnostic and treatment techniques in response to new procedures.
  • Processing complex patient image data · Planning radiotherapy treatment in conjunction with clinicians.
  • Drafting and developing policies for operating equipment.
  • Troubleshooting problems with medical devices.
  • Researching new equipment developments and techniques, assessing the impact on existing local practice and compiling reports to initiate changes.
  • Lecturing and training other health professionals.
  • Updating knowledge of health and safety legislation and procedures.
  • Undertaking continuing professional training and development.
Last Updated on Thursday, 17 February 2011 14:39
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