Introduction: The anode heel effect can be used to optimize image quality and/or patient dose in digital radiography (DR). In film-screen radiography, the effect can equalize optical density in regions of varying attenuation. Clinical experience suggests that the implementation of DR has led to less awareness of anode orientation. Post-processing is assumed to compensate, but may also alter image impression and potentially obscure image details. Published evidence was examined for the influence of the anode heel effect on image quality in DR. Method: A systematic literature search was carried out using PubMed, Embase, and Web of Science databases. Title and abstracts were screened blinded by three authors, according to in-/exclusion criteria, followed by full-text analysis for final inclusion. Studies where technical and/or visual image quality were reported, was included. All studies were analyzed and assigned quality scores, according to relevant questions. The authors devised a scoring system based on reported information pertaining to reproducibility, interpretation, and generalizability of the methods and conclusions. Results: Five studies were included of heterogeneous design, each with methodological shortcomings. Only a few anatomical areas were covered. Very few patients were examined, and in no studies were images evaluated by radiologists or reporting radiographers. Relevant information such as post-processing, image quality criteria and analysis was insufficient in most studies, making reproduction difficult. Results were contradictory, especially concerning technical vs visual image quality. Conclusion: Limited published evidence was found quantifying the influence of the anode heel effect on image quality using DR technology. More methodologically, robust studies are needed. The published evidence neither proves nor disproves the impact of the heel effect on image quality in DR. Implications for practice: Based on a systematic review, no firm recommendations for anode orientation relating to image quality in DR can be provided.
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