Hospital making switch from film to digital imaging

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Moving from film to digital at the Yampa Valley Medical Center's radiology department will save the hospital and patients time and space.

By the start of the ski season, YVMC hopes to make the switch from film to digital images for X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, computed tomography and nuclear medicines.

The hospital will go digital when it installs a computer radiology system, something that has been on its wish list for about two years, said Mary Jo Wiedel, the hospital's director of diagnostic imaging.

"We are very excited," Wiedel said. "It will increase the quality of patient care at the Yampa Valley Medical Center."

Instead of using film, the X-rays and other images will be imprinted on plates. Those plates can then be read on large computer screens called clinical viewing stations. The images then can be printed out, saved onto CDs or e-mailed.

The images can be read almost immediately, saving valuable patient time, Wiedel said. Patients' do not have to wait for the film to be developed or to carry the X-rays back to the emergency room. "This is so much quicker," Wiedel said. "You can look at the image before the patient even returns back to the emergency room."

Another important benefit, Wiedel said, is the reduction in radiation for patients. Because images can be altered on the computer - such as lightening or darkening images so they are easier to read - there is less chance that X-rays would have to be redone.

Although the images can be printed out, Wiedel said the plan is to put them on a CD and give the CD to the patient. The method would be particularly helpful for patients from out-of-town, especially those with ski injuries, who could then give the CD to their physicians at home.

A network also is planned so the hospital can send the images to physicians or other health care providers.

Along with more efficient patient care, the computer radiology system will cut down on storage of X-rays and the purchase of film. Each year, the hospital stores thousands of X-rays, many for people who will never return to YVMC. Those images can be stored digitally and the plates with those images can be reused. No film is needed. The cost of a full computer radiology system is typically around $300,000, Wiedel said.

YVMC plans to put the funding for the system in the December 2005 budget. Wiedel said the hospital is waiting for the Food and Drug Administration's approval of using the technology for mammograms. Digital images already are used for CAT scans.

Wiedel said it should take the staff about a week to implement the system. The technology has been in place at other hospitals for the past few years, and Wiedel said some of the employees have previous experience with it. "This is the way to go," Wiedel said. "It has come down in price and the technology is so good."

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