Digital revolution replaces film at medical center

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Emergency room physician David Cionni checks out a patient's X-rays and other information using a new digital computer system that links different parts of the hospital for better patient care.

A digital revolution has hit the hallways at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

The hospital's radiology department recently moved from using film for X-rays and other diagnostic images to processing them digitally. The change has proven to save both patients' and physicians' time and space.

The hospital's digital system, which was purchased in December 2003, cost about $250,000.

The new digital system allows physicians and medical care providers to take digital X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, computed tomography and nuclear medicines.

The only image the new system cannot produce digital images of is mammograms, which Mary Jo Wiedel, the hospital's director of diagnostic imaging, hopes to obtain in the near future.

"We are only one step away from being completely digital," she said.

Moving from film images to digital images is extremely convenient for physicians because it allows them to take and produce images of a patient much more quickly than the time it would take to process the images on film.

"It's extremely efficient. It's nice for our patients because they don't have to wait around very long," she said. "It just speeds up the entire process of producing an X-ray or whatever you're getting done."

One of the most convenient aspects of digital imagery is its accessibility.

Physicians in an operating room or emergency room have almost instantaneous access to the image after the radiologist has taken the image using the digital system. Physicians in other areas of the city or state also have access to the images, which can be very beneficial to a patient who is being transferred or sent to another hospital or health care provider.

"Before a patient can even walk back to the ER, a doctor is there looking at the images," she said.

Dr. David Cionni, an emergency medical physician at the hospital, said becoming digitized was a dream come true.

"I don't miss (film) at all," he said demonstrating how he can highlight an area of an image or magnify the image to take a closer look at something.

"It's faster. It's more detailed. It allows us to manipulate images in ways we never could before," he said.

Learning how to use the new equipment wasn't difficult, either, he said.

"Implementing this new system was completely seamless. The learning curve was very steep, but very easy. We all were using it almost immediately," he said.

Patients also have the option to take their digital images home on CDs, as well as seeing a printed copy of the image, Wiedel said.

By having images on a computer, the hospital has alleviated the need to store bulky X-rays in large envelopes, or jackets. Digital images also take less time for staff to prepare, and CDs of the images can be burned quickly.

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