|Swissray ddR Modulaire and the IG5 1000 H table.|
There’s no doubt that digital radiography (DR) is fast replacing standard analog formats. As your personal film camera collects dust in your closet, conventional screen-film machines have begun collecting dust, to a certain degree. Digital technology is here to stay, and why not? It is faster, cheaper, environmentally friendlier and just as—if not more—accurate. A 2000 study in the American Journal of Roentgenology concluded that digital radiography met or exceeded the expectations and results of conventional radiography. And since then, the technology has continued to be refined.
But how much faster? How much better is DR?
Consider that old film camera again. Not only did you have to buy film, but you also had to pay for processing — even those photos that were misaligned, out of focus or otherwise unusable. While the photo store recycled some of the processing chemicals, most of them went down
The same thing happened with conventional radiography: There’s no more film, no more chemicals and there’s an increase in clinical efficiency. With increasing demand and increases in patient studies, time has become an aggressive factor in patient care.
DR in the clinic
Walt Zipprian, radiology manager of the orthopedic department at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, says that his clinic has seen a significant drop in radiography costs and increases in efficiency thanks to DR. Two years ago, Zipprian’s clinic changed buildings and at the same time deployed DR. The clinic went from a 10-room facility with 15 technologists to a three-room facility with four techs and still managed to increase efficiency — all because of the switch from conventional x-ray to DR.
Baylor uses the Siemens Medical Soulutions AXIOM Aristos FX and Multix M systems in the clinic, which were a significant investment, but have since proved their worth. At approximately $210,000 per room, the digital systems were double the cost of the conventional system setup of about $85,000 to $100,000 per room.
“Those machines are really suited for our practice,” Zipprian says. The systems also have saved money. “We’ve saved $7,000 to $10,000 per month in film, chemicals and plumbing alone.” he said. Staff reductions have cut payroll expenditures by 66 percent.
According to Zipprian, expenditures are down significantly, and efficiency is on the rise. “The [DR] machines have cut our time by two-thirds,” he says. “It’s been a win-win for everybody.” Patients benefit from that time savings as well. The quicker a tech can get an injured patient in and out of the exam room, the better.
Zipprian says that a plain film leg exam used to take five to seven minutes, with no re-shoots. Now, he says, that time is two minutes. Since it only takes one-third the time to perform each scan, the clinic can handle a higher caseload per day. “We see about 400 to 500 patients per week in the outpatient clinic,” Zipprian says. That is approximately a 33 percent increase over the conventional setup, with no film or chemical costs, and the reduction in labor costs. Since DR allows the tech to see images almost instantly, as opposed to waiting for each film to be developed, the tech can adjust the patient immediately for a re-shoot. Not only is time saved in the shoot itself, but the time it takes to re-shoot is virtually non-existent.
Service that works
Adapting to new technology and launching a totally new system wasn’t without its pitfalls however. Initially the department had some problems with the scoliosis software on the Aristos. But Siemens handled service calls right away. When some problems became too numerous for service calls, Zipprian says the vendor came in and replaced the entire system with new equipment. “I was really impressed with that,” Zipprian says. He adds that because it was a first-generation system, he expected some glitches. After a few prompt service calls, he says, all was taken care of.
While switching to DR was expensive initially for Baylor, Zipprian says the system will pay for itself in only three years.
Fewer units, higher volume
Dean Brown, CEO of the Alabama Orthopedics Clinic in Mobile, Ala., has had similar success switching to DR. Alabama Ortho also took the opportunity to go digital with the construction of a new facility. The clinic was able to pare down its x-ray systems from seven to two initially in 2003, with the addition of a third machine about six months ago. Alabama