This Day in Medical History: Roentgen Invents Clinical Correlation

Roentgen X-ray clinical correlation
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Roentgen X-ray clinical correlation
“Recommend CT or MRI”

THIS DAY IN MEDICAL HISTORY, 1895 – Did you that today on November 8, 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (also spelled Roentgen) not only produced and discovered X-rays, but also created the first ambiguous radiology report?

In an experiment with his wife Bertha as his subject, he produced the first and famous radiographic film of her hand.  Upon seeing the film, Roentgen stated, “Though it resembles a hand, other diagnostic possibilities include the skull, pelvic, femur, and foot.  As for the object that looks like a wedding ring, it may or not may be pneumonia, malignancy, or artifact.  Please clinically correlate.”  It still isn’t clear who Roentgen was asking to do the correlation, but he did it anyway.  In any event, Roentgen’s achievement would earn him the Nobel Prize in Ambiguity in 1901.

Within one year, the profession of hedging known as Radiology was born as physicians all over the world frantically sought to supplant the physical exam.  Roentgen pushed the field, telling his followers, “I need a CT or MRI to follow-up this X-ray, have we invented those yet?”  Radiologists multiplied, mainly characterized mainly by their strong aversion to sunlight.  Shortly thereafter, orthopedic surgeons were created to truly appreciate the X-rays, which eventually led to bone repairs and placement.  And that’s how we got into this current mess we’re in.

Next time you roll your eyes at a radiology report asking you to clinically correlate, give pause and redirect your frustration at Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, the first man to conjure up the phrase.  If you catch yourself wondering why generations upon generations of radiologists are noncommittal and will continue to remain so in the unforeseeable future, remember Roentgen.

Other important dates in history:
January 14: Patient Bled to Death When Only a 3 x 3 Gauze Was Available
March 14: ECG of the Day Toilet Paper Invented

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