Ontario’s second largest hospital has implemented a radiography technology that reduces the amount of time it takes a technician to obtain a medical image from three minutes to three seconds.

Hamilton Health Sciences,

which encompasses five hospitals and a cancer centre, in partnership with Mississauga, Ont.-based Horizon Medical Services, recently completed the installation of Canon digital radiography (DR) systems in six of its general X-ray rooms. Horizon Medical Services has installed 10 of these systems to date including two clinics in the Toronto area.

While the technology has only been in place for a few months, patients have already noticed the time savings benefits, said Pat Skritch, director of diagnostic services at Hamilton Health Sciences.

“Patients are used to having to wait,” said Skrtich. “They are thrilled at the fact of not having to sit around and wait.”

With the number of general radiography exams — which total approximately 225,000 annually — increasing at a rate of two to three per cent a year, Hamilton Health Sciences staff and resources were spread thin using older analogue technology.

“It’s very difficult to be able to staff and have enough resources available for your peak volume,” said Skrtich. “You have to pick somewhere in the middle. Sometimes you get a busy orthopedic clinic and a busy emergency department.”

Following the completion of its PACS implementation in April, Hamilton Health Sciences put out a request for proposal for a vendor to install DR systems at three of its sites. Last fall, the health care institution selected Canon dealer Horizon Medical Services, which has worked with the hospital for the past 25 years, for the job.

The DR systems replace older film-based systems, increasing technicians’ productivity two-fold, said Skrtich. Prior to implementing the DR systems, Hamilton Health Sciences looked at installing computed radiology (CR) systems, which use fixed cassette readers that have to be removed to be processed and are a cheaper alternative to DR technology.

“DR is much more expensive than CR,” said Larry Riley, president of Horizon Medical Services, adding a DR machine on average costs upwards of $250,000 per machine. “The real driving force is reducing wait times for procedures.”

The installations involved changing the receptor, which receives the images, with the X-ray tube and generator remaining in tact. The digital images are captured by flat panel digital sensors and stored in the PACS system at the site. If a doctor in the operating room, for example, forgets the X-ray back in his office, he can now easily retrieve it by logging into PACS on his CPU.

Despite the hefty price tag, cost and labour savings include using the space that would have otherwise been used for a dark room for other departments and the cost of chemicals and film, said Jose Alvarez, marketing specialist for Canon medical systems in the U.S. In addition to these benefits, government initiatives like Canada Health Infoway’s mandate to set up a national electronic health record by 2009 are driving this technology in the health-care sector.

“With this new role that’s going to be implemented, it’s something that’s going to help promote digital technology even more,” said Alvarez. “Digital radiology brings benefits and advantages that other technologies don’t.”

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