State-of-the-art digital diagnostic technology and new partnership enhance care for patients

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State-of-the-art x-ray equipment and a new partnership with Toronto East General Hospital are giving Providence Healthcare the diagnostic tools to improve care for its patients and residents.

The new Diagnostic Services Suite at Providence Healthcare officially opened on April 1, 2008 and features the latest digital diagnostic equipment, which produces instant, high-resolution images that can be viewed on a Providence physician’s desktop computer within minutes to speed diagnosis and treatment. Toronto East General Hospital (TEGH) has the same digital radiography system and the partnership provides for TEGH radiologists to read x-rays from Providence, which does not have a radiologist on staff.

Following an x-ray, Providence instantly feeds the images to TEGH’s Picture Archiving Communication System (PACS), a secure digital system that eliminates the need for hardcopy film x-rays. A TEGH radiologist reviews the images and dictates a report that is transcribed and sent back to Providence within 24 hours and printed directly to the patient care unit with a backup copy to the Diagnostic Services Suite. In urgent cases, a report can be sent back in four hours or less. With the old system, a report took three to four business days and up to 48 hours for an urgent request.

Having a high-tech, x-ray service on-site also means that Providence can avoid sending patients to acute care hospitals to detect and treat fractures, bowel obstructions, arthritis, cancer and other diseases, and to monitor the healing of joint replacements, among other things.

“This new technology enables us to enhance the patient experience at Providence and, at the same time, help alleviate some of the pressures in our acute care partner hospitals,” says Dr. Peter Nord, Vice President, Medical Affairs and Chief of Staff for Providence Healthcare. “Instead of transferring our patients to the emergency rooms of our acute care partners – such as Toronto East General Hospital – for high-resolution x-rays, we can take the x-rays here.”

The new system consists of two pieces of equipment: digital radiography (DR) (GE’s Definium 8000) and computed radiography (CR) (AGFA DXS). With DR, the radiation goes through a patient lying on an x-ray table directly into the tabletop and then to the computer. The image is on screen in about three seconds. There is also a vertical DR panel so that an upper body x-ray can be taken of a person in a wheelchair without having to move them to the table. The equipment is fully automated and pre-programmed for a variety of procedures. CR is used with patients who are unable to lie flat on an x-ray table due to contractures caused by immobility, for example. In this case, a cassette can be placed behind them in a wheelchair or a stretcher and the x-ray goes through them into the cassette, which is then digitized in a computer producing a high quality image within 30 to 60 seconds.

“By having these two different modalities, we are able to capture 100 per cent of our patient population needing an x-ray, which is a bit different than the patient population in an acute care hospital,” explains Helen Lampi, Director of Leading Practice and Program Operations. “None of our peers in the Toronto area has the DR system and a lot of acute care hospitals don’t have it yet,” adding: “The Providence physician requesting the x-ray can also get what we call a ‘wet read’ while waiting for the radiologist’s report. If a chest x-ray indicated pneumonia for example, our physician could start IV antibiotics even before the report arrived.”

Radiology Technician Tamara Campbell has witnessed first-hand how the new system improves the x-ray experience for patients. “With film, the radiation exposure was much longer and if a patient was breathing or moved, I might have to take the x-ray three times. Now there are far fewer repeats and the images are so much clearer.” The digital images can also be enlarged on the computer monitor to help physicians diagnose a problem.

“We are proud to partner with Providence Healthcare in allowing patients to receive quicker access to medical care,” adds TEGH President and Chief CEO Rob Devitt. “This partnership is an example of how hospitals can work together to improve patient care.”

Changing to digital x-rays has also enabled Providence Healthcare to join the Toronto East Network PACS group, called TEN PACS, which offers a digital imaging repository where patients’ images and reports can be archived and retrieved. If a Providence patient has to be transferred to TEGH for acute care, their x-rays and reports are readily available and do not have to be duplicated.