Digital radiography (DR) increases efficiency and enhances image quality, but its high price point has deterred many sites. With new options, DR is flexing its muscles and demonstrating its cost effectiveness. A pair of facilities explains how DR enabled them to rejuvenate their practices on a budget.
For many facilities, legacy equipment decreases technologist productivity and patient throughput, creating a challenge for radiology administrators. They need to boost efficiency while maximizing return on investment and holding budgets steady.
DR may assist with this venture. For example, AnMed Health in Anderson, S.C., employed mobile DR plates (Carestream Health) to retrofit standard radiology rooms, says Tim Catoe, PACS administrator.
With 13,000 exams monthly, Catoe found AnMed's CR plate configuration was not keeping up and it was time to evaluate other options. By harnessing mobile plates, the facility minimized downtime by moving room by room to an all digital environment. The average installation for the plate system was about a half a day versus weeks of downtime for a complete digital suite replacement, according to Catoe.
The DR plates provide full digital imaging capabilities. The removable plates are slid into the bucky of a standard x-ray table like a regular cassette. "Using the mobile technology allowed us to maintain our current analog radiology equipment," he says. "We retrofit the room without changing the equipment."
The installation allowed AnMed to upgrade to a digital environment at a fraction of the cost of a new digital suite.
Because the radiology department budgets every six months, it took less than two years to periodically budget for the mobile plate systems, according to Catoe.
Robert Brown, PACS administrator at Western Baptist Hospital, a 349-bed facility in Paducah, Ky., agrees that DR is a recipe for success. The organization began implementing DR technology in 2002.
"When DR became available, we were eager to use it," says Brown, adding that the hospital initially deployed DR plates (Canon U.S.A.) in the ER for two chest buckys and two table buckys.
After starting with traditional fixed plates, the workflow was such a good fit that the hospital deployed a series of mobile wireless plates, culminating in a hybrid infrastructure of direct-wired plates and wireless plates on a portable unit.
The efficiency boost
At Western Baptist, DR has shaved five minutes from processing time. With 190,000 imaging studies annually, the difference equates to nearly 16,000 hours. In addition, images are immediately available, allowing physicans to initiate treatment more promptly.
The transition to portable DR chest studies has been significant for technologists at Western Baptist. Performing a portable chest study on the floor and transmitting it wirelessly represents a time-savings of 10 to 15 minutes per patient because techs no longer have to walk a cassette from the floor to the radiology department for processing.
"We started with 62,000 exams on the CR system and have increased to 71,000 exams with DR," says Brown. "This has been accomplished with no appreciable difference in FTEs [full-time equivalents] over that period."
Whether the goal is to update equipment, boost workflow or keep down costs, DR can spell relief for cash-strapped, time-crunched radiology departments. DR-equipped providers have demonstrated that the technol-ogy weds efficiency and flexibility, making it a winning configuration.