Leading-Edge Digital Diagnostics at St. Joseph’s


There are less than six hospitals in Canada that can boast of the array of digital imaging technology that is now in operation at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.St. Joseph’s is one of the few filmless hospitals in Canada; x-ray film has become a thing of the past.

Film has been replaced by a new digital system that manages and stores diagnostic images. PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System) allows physicians to access those images anywhere necessary, from the office of the family physician to the operating room, from the emergency room to a specialist located in a distant city.

X-ray film must be physically moved from place to place and can only be viewed at one place at a time. PACS permits multi caregivers to view the images at the same time.

“Instead of looking at transparencies, doctors are looking at computers,” says Dr. Julian Dobranowski, Chief of Diagnostic Imaging at St. Joseph’s. “The system is limitless. You can have five, ten, twenty doctors looking at the same case, at the same time. That provides an ideal situation for conferencing among various specialists.”

Doris Hutchinson, diabetes patient and Dr. Vladan Janjusevic, Family Physician demonstrate ATRS (Automated Telephone Reminder System) a component of COMPETE II, an information and communications network led by the Centre for Evaluation of Medicines.

Dobranowski says while x-ray films are notorious for going astray, the digital environment allows doctors to keep patient information together and accessible at all times.

St. Joseph’s also has one of only four direct digital radiography units in Canada and one of only five full-size digital mammography units in Canada. The evolution from film to digital cuts processing from 90 seconds to as little as 5 seconds, images that can then be moved onto PACS.

A centrepiece at St. Joseph’s Diagnostic Imaging Department is the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine. “MRI has a special role in making diagnoses, because it doesn’t have some of the problems of ultrasound or a CT Scan,” says Dobranowski. “And it is less invasive. There is a whole population of patients out there that really benefit from this technology, and only this technology.”

The changes – amounting to a leap into the 21st century – were implemented in an astonishingly short period. “The staff at St. Joseph’s accepted the challenge of change and rose to a level where our department can be showcased across the country,” says Dobranowski. “And as soon as physicians, institutions and staff in D.I. departments elsewhere become acquainted with this technology, as soon as the mystique of these technologies dissolves, we’ll see this technology disseminated right across Canada.”

Operating seven days a week, St. Joseph’s MRI has screened 2,000 patients in under six months. The new diagnostic tool has cut waiting time for testing from as much as 12 months down to four. Dobranowski says patients’ lives are being impacted for the better. “This technology is more than just wires and diodes, it is the process to provide better patient care.”

Joe Sardi General Manager for GE agrees, describing St. Joseph’s as having “foresight and vision that puts the hospital on the leading edge in both thinking and technology.”

The PACS system cost $5.1 million, but with significant savings in department expenses it is expected to pay for itself within seven years.

The MRI came with a $2.3 million price tag. It was funded from both public donations and a $2 million gift from a prominent Hamilton family – the McArthurs.

President and CEO Dr. Kevin Smith says St. Joseph’s – a teaching hospital – is now a national leader among teaching institutions. “The installation of this digital environment allows us to deliver the very best patient quality of care. It also helps us with retention and recruitment of health professionals. People want to work in environments that have cutting-edge technologies. And that is exactly what this hospital enjoys.”