What Is 3D Medical Imaging?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 14 March 2020
  • Copyright Protected:
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The use of 3D medical imaging provides reconstructed three dimensional images for evaluation and diagnosis of patients. The images can be produced in a number of ways with an assortment of equipment. For example, a computed tomography (CT) machine can take a series of images in slices that a computer can use to make a three dimensional model. This model uses the scanned images to bring the inside of the patient's body to life.

There are a number of applications for 3D medical imaging. The images can be manipulated by care providers who can rotate them, magnify them to access higher resolution, and virtually cut into them to see what's going on internally. This can allow for a more complete picture of what is happening inside a patient, which can help medical professionals spot structural abnormalities and other issues. This can also be very useful for surgical planning, where doctors want to know what they will encounter in the operating room.

Some medical facilities can integrate 3D medical imaging into treatment. A three dimensional map of structures of interest can be interfaced with a program that targets a patient with radiation, ultrasound, and other technologies to treat disease. The same mapping technology can also be used for things like helping a brain surgeon identify and remove abnormal tissue. Sometimes tissues in the brain appear normal visually and a surgeon can have trouble finding an area of concern in the operating room.


In medical planning, 3D medical imaging can allow providers to experiment with different treatments and approaches before they embark on patient treatment. It can also be provided in real time, allowing doctors to follow tracer materials for activities like measuring heart function or tracking down vascular obstructions. Patients may find the images helpful because they can be more understandable than two dimensional scans. For patient education, the ability to pull up a model of the inside of the body can be highly beneficial.

Medical imaging equipment with 3D capability can be more expensive. Some facilities retrofit existing equipment so they can feed scans into computer programs for conversion to 3D, but this is not always possible with older imaging machines. In the event a facility needs to replace equipment to provide 3D medical imaging, grants or other financial assistance may be available to offset the cost. Such grants can often make it possible to provide advanced imaging services in low income or isolated communities where health care facilities might not be able to afford the equipment.



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