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Cutting edge medical imaging at hospital

by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman
Thunderbolt editor
Photo by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman

Staff Sgt. Hugo Arteaga, 6th MDSS X-ray technician, takes a look at the shoulder X-ray he took on a patient. The image was almost instantly displayed on the monitor.

The base hospital on Bayshore Boulevard will soon offer some of the most technologically advanced patient care equipment in the country. The film-less Picture Archiving Communication System, manufactured by AGFA, is going to revolutionize day-to-day operations said Kevin Reed, the PACS administrator.

"This system will change not only the workflow in the Radiology (department), but in the entire hospital," said Mr. Reed, adding that acquiring the new technology that does away with traditional film and developing began three years ago.

Use of digital radiography has already begun and the PACS will be fully integrated into the facility by October. The PACS can be used with all imaging methods including standard X-rays, CT, MRI and Ultrasound, and allow these images to be distributed electronically and interpreted on computer workstations.

The benefits of the PACS are multifold; diagnosis turnaround time is reduced and patient care is improved, as physicians will no longer need to wait for film images to be processed and then analyzed and/or delivered. These benefits will be monumental for operating and emergency room cases, where immediate decisions are critical.

"Right now everything is conventional radiography," said Mr. Reed, giving an example scenario. "The (X-ray technician) has to take the film into a darkroom, dip the film into a chemical bath and process the film."

In an all-digital environment, physicians will no longer have to wait for images to be filmed or lost studies to be found, because information can be quickly retrieved from the PACS archive. Through the immediate routing of images to workstations for interpretation, report turnaround time is reduced and patient care is improved due to earlier decisions on what course of action should be taken in each individual case. Physicians, with a reputation for working long hours and taking work home, will even have the ability to access the files from home if the situation demands it.

The anytime-anywhere access will provide for ease of consultation between physicians who can instantly and simultaneously access images, reports, and audio report summaries throughout the hospital, in their office or even at home through a secure web server. The system can eventually be configured to automatically acquire prior images, which are held within the patient's virtual folder in the PACS.

While patients will not see a noticeable change in how X-rays or MRIs are taken, hospital employees are excited about the changes the new technology will bring, said Mr. Reed. Images will be permanently stored at the hospital in a DVD jukebox of sorts, eliminating the possibility of lost records. That will mean fewer man-hours used to track, sort and file thousands of patients' films, currently stored in a large warehouse-type building for up to five years. For now, those files will remain available for physicians. However, Mr. Reed predicted they will no longer be needed in two years.

Patients concerned about availability can rest at ease. If a situation presented itself where a patient needed a copy of any images produced using the new technology, the Radiology department will be receiving two special laser printers to produce a hard copy. Also on the way is a special compact disc burner to provide a software copy for patients.




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