As Dr. Frederick Jones, diagnostic radiologist at Yampa Valley Medical Center, looks through X-ray images of a patient's trunk on a computer screen, he is visually traveling inside a body to see the patient's spine, kidneys and more.
With a few clicks, he takes the images -- each are similar to a single slice of bread -- and pulls them together into one entire "loaf" for a three-dimensional look at the patient's trunk.
From that, he can hone in on a diagonal or cross-section slice, something that is too difficult to do in one's mind and used to take hours with a computer.
Now, it takes seconds.
This new 3-D way of looking at the human body is made possible with the hospital's top-of-the-line computed tomography scanner, also called a CAT or CT scanner, which lets doctors see the human body faster and with finer detail.
Having a three-dimensional view is more helpful in situations such as a complex fracture in a joint, as they allow a doctor to see clearly how one area relates to another.
The improvement that has come with the new technology is "dramatic," Jones said.
"It's a great advance from what we could previously do," he said.
Yampa Valley Medical Center is a smaller hospital that serves a large region, and the technology is one of many advances that help the hospital provide similar services that are available in metropolitan areas.
The scanner accompanies a Picture Archiving Communication System, or PACS, which computerizes images. For scans and other digital imaging technologies, PACS means X-ray film no longer is necessary.
Together, the technologies cost $1.3 million.
At its most basic, the CT scanner is a fast rotating X-ray. A patient lies on a bed that is pushed through a large ring structure, which has a rotating X-ray tube inside. The machine scans the patient in a spiral fashion, similar to peeling an apple.
As the beams are sent down, the patient's body stops some. A detector measures how much of each beam is stopped and builds images of the patient's body.
The scans are much faster than before, taking up to 32 images every second, compared to the previous machine's one image per second.
That has several advantages. First, it's easier to evaluate trauma patients and to take images of larger sections of the patient's body in a short period of time. It also lets doctors see more patients.
More images mean finer detail and the ability to get a three-dimensional view and see how areas interact with each other.
The speed of the machine also means doctors can follow moving targets -- for instance, it can better capture images from children who tend to be restless.
Doctors also can follow moving targets in the body, such as blood. Movement of blood through the heart and vessels can be captured quickly and easily to tell if any vessels are blocked, compared to previous studies that were more invasive.
The equipment has revolutionized how the hospital looks at patients, said Mary Jo Wiedel, director of the hospital's diagnostic imaging department.
"We're very fortunate to be so advanced in our Diagnostic Imaging Department," she said. "We're enthusiastic about our new CT and PACS technology, knowing this imaging technology allows us to provide excellent imaging studies and care here at YVMC."
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