Red for danger....
Updated: Aug 9, 2018
Thermal Imaging, also known as TI, is something of a ( excuse the pun) hot topic right now and as trained and qualified CAT1 Equine Thermographer's, we wanted to de-bunk some myths about the services being offered out there and important questions you may wish to ask before booking an appointment with a thermographer. Firstly the great thing about TI is that it is non invasive, it doesn't hurt the horse and can be relatively quick. It is one of the only diagnostic tools that can show nerve damage and the use in seeing developing laminitis recently has been very popular. It is a great tool to have alongside other diagnostic methods. Having spoken to some clients who had looked into this service with other providers, we have been a little concerned about some of the claims that are being made and the process undertaken.
1. Thermal Imaging should be conducted within, where possible a controlled environment. Environmental factors play a huge part in the quality and the results produced. Some factors which will effect results are:
Direct Sunlight - so imaging in a field is a no go, unless it is for a comparative scenario
Airflow - open doors, standing by a window will produce inaccurate results
Structure - brick, wood, metal as examples will all affect results
Positioning of horse - heat transfer, conduction, convection again have to be taken into account
2. Unless you are a Vet, in accordance with the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966.(https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1966/36) you are NOT legally allowed to diagnose. Unfortunately we are hearing reports of providers giving diagnosis directly to the client. Any areas of interest arising from the images, should be noted as that, an area of interest and noted that a referral to a vet may wish to be undertaken. Anyone can be an equine thermographer, you could just buy a camera, have a play and do a basic internet course. However a qualified Thermographer has studied the subject of thermography, not just equine but everything, have had to understand physics at a HE level and sit an exam. We were all sick of Planck's Law, phase change and Stefan-Boltzmanns Law and equations by the end of it.
3. Just because it is red doesn't mean its an issue! Clever use of imagery for marketing purposes leads the reader to assume it does. It is all to do with the colour palette selected at editing and the process of editing. The best piece of advise we were given when training, was " look for the tree not the leaves". A small red ( if produced in that palette) spot does not mean there is necessarily an issue. Recently whilst editing a clients images I saw a small red spot on the horses Tuber Coxae area. Now because I was the Thermographer and was aware of the environment and its factors I was able to immediately know what this was... It has the light coming through a small hole in the stable roof! Not a muscle tear in the horse. Which for us leads us to another point. It is very hard for an external person to process and interrupt the images UNLESS they have a very accurate understanding of the environment at that time.
4. Immediate diagnosis. As referred to in point 2, no diagnosis should be taking place. In interpreting the images taken, until they have been processed via the thermographer computer editor, the camera is actually going to be able to tell you very little. It will just give brief snapshots. To get qualitative results, parameters need to be set such as reflected temperature, emissivity, humidity, distance and solar flare removed from the surrounding environment. It is this process that in fact takes the time, the process of imagery is relatively quick. So to be able to say " yep here is the issue" from the camera screen, for us, doesn't cut it and is one of the biggest frustrations most qualified thermographer's currently struggle with.
5. Equipment. Just like any technical equipment, it seems the more it costs the better it is. Sad fact but true. You can purchase very convenient thermal cameras which plug in the bottom of a smart phone, some look like a basic smart phone and they all serve a purpose. But again, if you are wanting quality and explanations, then you need to be using something with a minimum resolution of 320 x 240. The camera needs to be able to tilt and rotate its lens to be able to access the difficult angles of the horse. You just can't achieve the desired results with a static lens. Now whilst some may heavily disagree with this point, I think you just need to assess the difference for yourself in the images below. Pixelated images, with no legend and produced over a wide temperature span tell you very little diagnostically and again will give you "leaves not trees"
Whilst the above 5 points are our personal opinion, they also fall in line with the guidelines given by the trade associations for the profession ( AAT, ICAT, UKTA
So before you choose a provider for your thermal imaging, please do consider these points
Image 1- poorly edited and taken, where background has been allowed to temper incorrectly and with a too wide temperature span and image not thermally tuned
Image 2 - a low resolution camera, producing pixelated result, giving no real ability to analysis, however the background has been correctly edited using thermal tuning
Image 3 - a high resolution camera, producing a clearer image with distinguishable detail