Since the discovery of x-rays by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen 100 years ago, diagnostic imaging has profoundly influenced the practice of medicine. As a result of discoveries during this period, ultrasonography, nuclear imaging, computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, as well as conventional radiography, have assumed a major role in diagnostic medicine. In addition to their traditional role in diagnosis, imaging techniques are becoming an increasingly important factor in innovative treatment methods, and this role is likely to expand. In the current climate of rising health care costs, radiologists and other health care providers who use imaging must increasingly account to health care funders for the cost-effectiveness of imaging in relation to other diagnostic and interventional techniques. They must also assure minimum standards of quality and training, and determine the appropriate role for diagnostic imaging in health care systems of the future.