SMH upgrades CT scan equipment

Published 8:05 am Friday, August 21, 2009

FRANKLIN—If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then doctors at Southampton Memorial Hospital now have volumes of information available to them.

That’s because the hospital recently upgraded its computerized tomography scanner.

“This CT scanner is probably three times as fast as the one we had before,” Dr. Bill Olson, a radiologist for SMH, said of the hospital’s new Philips Brilliance 40 scanner. “Scanning time is like a bolt of lightning.”

Olson said the new scanner has more powerful processing capability, gathering data from 40 channels instead of the 16 channels that the previous scanner was able to do.

“Not only do we have more data being generated with every rotation of the scan, we have much faster processing capabilities,” Olson said. “This helps us scan older patients, or patients who are not as well aware of their surroundings, and we can catch their images faster.”

The radiologist added that the new scanner’s processing power allows it to perform a study of the abdomen or pelvis in seven to 10 seconds, and produce fewer blurry images.

“This allows us to do things that we could do previously, but not to the same resolution,” Olson said. “We can do vascular studies of the carotid arteries, and of the blood vessels that supply the legs. Although we had the capability previously, it was not reliable enough for us to use it.”

According to Olson, the new scanner was installed about two weeks ago. It took one day to remove the old CT scanner, but the process of putting in the new one took almost a week and required removing and making changes to the floor. Also, the former scanner’s water-cooling equipment was removed; the new scanner is air-cooled.

Dr. Frank Hawkins, the hospital’s director of imaging, said the new scanner cost $650,000. Community Health Systems of Franklin, Tenn., with which SMH is affiliated, is making lease payments on the machine with an option to purchase it or trade it in for a newer scanner at the end of the lease.

“Our patients will benefit because it will take less time to do the scanning,” Hawkins said. “The new scanner has some additional capabilities. We can do a CT in angiography, which we couldn’t do with the old one. And if you have a known aneurysm, we can do scans monthly or every six months to follow that. We can track it right down to a millimeter growth in size.”

Olson said another benefit to the new scanner is a decreased reliance on contrast, a chemical given to patients before receiving a CT scan.

“For most people, contrast is not a problem,” Olson said. “But some people get flushed or get hives, they have minor reactions to it. Now we get better images with smaller amounts of contrast.”

Hawkins said the hospital usually performs 25 to 27 CT studies a day. Olson said it was not uncommon for victims of automobile accidents to come from the emergency room needing five CT studies, one each of the head, neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis. The radiologist added that the number of patients has ranged from 12 to 23 in one day, but typically averages between 15 and 17.

Olson said he has worked with CT scanners since the technology first began and was trained on the nation’s second CT scanner in Washington, D.C., in 1975.

“In those days, it took 45 minutes to do an 8-image scan,” Olson said. “Half of that was scan time and half was processor time. That’s the advance that has occurred in the 40 years that we have had the CTs.”