Medical imaging

'Medical imaging' is a collective term for various techniques for obtaining an image of the body. In hospitals, medical imaging is used to diagnose, detect and monitor diseases at an early stage, support medical interventions and evaluate treatments.

The following heavy-duty medical imaging devices can be distinguished:

  • CT: In computer tomography, X-rays are used to make cross-sections of the inner body. As such, the patient is 'scanned', as it were. This device is therefore colloquially referred to as 'the scanner'.
  • MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to image the inner body.
  • SPECT-CT: a radioactive product that is injected is used here. The radiation is then measured with detectors that rotate around the patient. The measurements are then added to CT images in order to clearly see where the injected product is distributed.
  • PET (including PET-CT and PET-MRI): As with SPECT-CT, a radioactive product is used. The radioactive product used in PET has the unique characteristic that it can always be measured in two directions. By combining the information from 2 measurements, doctors obtain a highly accurate picture of the distribution of the injected product. The above techniques all have their strengths and weaknesses. There is therefore no generally applicable technique. What is a good imaging technique for one disorder is not always the same for another.

These are the devices which have the necessary accreditations and permissions and which were reported to the FPS Public health

Medical imaging has played a major role in the enormous progress made in modern medicine and plays an every greater role in our healthcare. However, there is also a downside to the frequent use of techniques such as CT scans, namely the increased exposure to ionising radiation. In comparison with other countries, many CT scans are performed in our country. The bar chart below shows the number of CT studies per 100,000 inhabitants per country for the years 2011 and 2016:

Note: Ireland and Sweden, not available.
(1) Hospitals only.
(2) 2011: not available.
(3) 2011: definition differs.
(4) Break in series.
(5) 2012 instead of 2011.
(6) 2015 instead of 2016.
(7) 2013 instead of 2011.
Source: Eurostat (online data code: hlth_co_exam)

To inform the sector and the public about the importance of the correct use of medical imaging, the FPS Public Health launched an annual campaign between 2012 and 2016, called "Medische beelden zijn geen vakantiekiekjes" (Medical images are not holiday snapshots).

The campaigns had a wide reach, so citizens were better informed and inclined to ask questions to their doctor more rapidly1. This was reflected, among other things, in a decrease in the number of CT scans among children and young people under the age of 20.


medische beeldvorming campagne.jpg

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Overall, however, the use of CT scans in our country continues to increase.  The large number of CT scans means that the Belgian public is exposed to more radiation. Since MRI scans (as opposed to CT scans) do not involve a radiation risk and can be an alternative to CT scans for certain indications, the FPS Public Health collaborates with the INAMI/RIZIV and experts from the sector in order to obtain a shift from using CT scans to MRI scans. In this regard, it is important that the offering is well attuned to the needs. To determine the supply of medical imaging equipment objectively, the ratio of the number of equipment per 100,000 inhabitants per region was calculated. In order to bring this ratio more into line with the different parts of the country, the number of MRI devices was increased in 2014 by 12 devices (protocol agreement of 24 February 2014). Following an evaluation of this expansion, it was decided in 2018 to expand the number of MRI devices again, this time by 18 devices (follow-up protocol of 5 November 2018). These new devices will be operational in hospitals within two to three years.


[1] For more information about the results of the inquiry, take a look at: