RSNA: Dedicated 3D labs offer many benefits

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CHICAGO—Having a dedicated advanced visualization 3D lab provides numerous advantages to radiology departments, including financial incentives, workflow benefits and improved quality of images, according to a presentation on Nov. 27 at the annual scientific meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Bradley J. Erickson, MD, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., explained that 3D labs not only benefit radiology departments, physicians also are increasingly expecting 3D images to be produced for certain studies, notably CT angiography.

“3D is a great communications tool with other physicians and with patients,” said Erickson. “Particularly in this era of consumer medicine, patients expect to see and participate in decision making; looking at axial images just doesn’t do it for most patients. They want to see things that look to them like a heart or a liver or whatever they have to have work on.”

Outsourcing the production of 3D images is an option for lower volume departments, but Erickson provided a number of reasons for the creation of an on-site 3D lab, including:

  • Higher standardization: With an on-site lab, it’s easier to get the same set of views for the studies that are performed.
  • Single point of contact: A referring physician only has one place to call if there’s a question about an image. If there’s no lab, the radiologist will still get a call and that could impact workflow.
  • Enhanced teamwork: 3D labs can act as a uniting force in an enterprise. Since the systems are expensive, there would likely be one central resource pushing departments to work together.
  • Administrative buy-in: Since the lab would be an investment, COOs, CIOs and other decision makers who go with an on-site model will be on board from the start, and departments won’t likely have to worry about having the carpet dragged out from beneath the project later on.

Erickson said that a 3D lab shouldn’t be considered a major money-maker, but departments should be in the black.

Eliot L. Siegel, MD, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, was more optimistic about the revenue that could be generated, pointing to successful 3D labs at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Calif. and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Having these resources could be a good marketing tool to referring clinicians as well as patients. Since Stanford created its lab in 1996, study volume has grown 25 to 30 percent per year.

Siegel also pointed out the unique role of technologists under the Stanford model: The technologist comes in early, reviews the studies scheduled for that day, and selects the best candidates for advanced processing.

“The technologist’s job, interestingly enough, is not just to render the images, but the tech reviews the patient’s history and the patient chart to determine what are the optimal images to be obtained,” said Siegel. “So in this case, the technologist is not just the artist … the technologist has some responsibility for finding and rendering the pathology rather than just rendering standardized, templated type images.”