Science and the surreal

It has been a surreal week. Tucked away in the safety of the upper Midwest, I’m fairly insulated from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The storm, as we all know, has left millions without power, re-shaped the New Jersey shore, forced hospital evacuations and led the American Society of Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) to suspend its annual convention on Oct. 29.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo observed that 100-year floods now occur every 10 years. In other words, the rate of change is accelerating. As we are swept into an uncertain future, it seems clear that there is no substitute for adequate preparation. Rad-Planning has developed a thorough checklist to help imaging providers batten down the hatches. It’s worth saving.

The news continued despite the hurricane’s havoc, and as I reviewed the week’s top stories, it seems we have taken a giant leap into the future. Watson, IBM’s Deep Question Answering Technology, has enrolled in medical school and will train alongside medical students at Cleveland Clinic. It’s an entirely new, and quite compelling, application of robots in medicine.

As providers experiment with and employ robotic technology, a few have voiced fears that robots will replace physicians. However, the intent is to supplement, not supplant. Physicians also have expressed concerns about another potentially competitive provider group—nonphysicians—nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

A study published in the November issue of American Journal of Roentgenology found that physicians order nearly three times the rate of CT exams in the emergency department as their nonphysician colleagues and explored several possible reasons for the discrepancy.

In other news, nanoparticles capable of searching and destroying cancerous tissue inched a bit closer to reality, according to research presented at the AVS Symposium in Tampa, Fla. The technology also could lead to more precise lumpectomies, and reduce the re-excision rate among women undergoing breast conservation surgery.

Finally, at ASTRO, a research team reported that prostate cancer patients treated with proton beam therapy reported better early quality of life scores and comparable scores at two years as patients treated with other radiation therapies. Proton beam therapy, which has been highly hyped, has raised some red flags among policymakers and physicians, partially due to treatment costs that can reach $50,000 per patient.  

As imaging accelerates into the future, what technologies and policies hold the most promise for your practice?  We look forward to hearing from you, and hope that our East Coast readers are safe and sound.

Lisa Fratt, editor