3D labs abound with benefits

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“SIIM University” provided details about 3D and advanced visualization efforts at two medical centers in Boston yesterday at SIIM 2007 in Providence, R.I.

Gordon J. Harris, PhD, director of 3D imaging services at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, discussed the goals of the lab, which include integrating CAD into routine clinical workflow and bridging research and clinical applications to migrate new technologies into clinical practice.

Harris explained that 3D imaging is turning a set of images into a volume of data and then manipulating that data. Radiologists and surgeons usually have different preferences in the type of manipulation they seek. Many diagnostic radiologists prefer maximum intensity projection (MIP) while many neurovascular physicians prefer volume rendering or curved reconstruction.

Since the creation of the 3D lab three years ago, the clinical benefits include faster and more confident diagnosing, more complete and realistic views of the patient, and a decrease in exploratory surgery. Harris said that the lab performs 2,500 cases a month and has 13 FTEs. Finding and training technologists is one of the biggest challenges, he said. They must give up scanning for image processing and it takes about 9 to 12 months to get someone fully trained. Not everyone takes to it, either, he said. Unfortunately, he has had techs still having trouble with the technology after a few months who then leave for another position, taking that training with them.

Plans for the lab include scaling up services to provide off-hours coverage and to assist other facilities with post-processing work. Despite the ongoing advances in technology, Harris said he is not worried about his job security. “Every time we automate something, there are new requests to automate something else. So far, we haven’t made ourselves obsolete.”

Matthew Barish, MD, director of the 3D and Image Processing Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is in the earlier days of running a 3D lab. His facility was created about a year ago and has faced challenges with territorial concerns from radiologists.

However, Barish said having a 3D lab reduces consultation time, assists and even improves diagnosis, and allows for diagnosis or detection not possible from axial images. A separate lab also improves the quality and consistency of 3D reconstructions, allows for enterprise-wide workstation planning, improves the efficiency of radiologists and increases hospital revenue.