Driving Better Healthcare

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 - Mary C. Tierney
Mary C. Tierney

Everything old is new again. Flat-panel-based digital radiography is seeing a resurgence, fueled by the drive to back-to-basics, core technologies in this ultra-tight economic and reimbursement climate. The need to drive greater productivity and throughput for radiology’s workhorse has never been greater.

If you walked the halls of the RSNA 2008 meeting, you saw the crowds gathered around DR offerings. In particular, new wireless, flat-panel DR detectors bring untethered convenience to digital throughput. Convenience, flexibility, faster exams and affordability are compelling—even in a conservative spending atmosphere. Some of the panels for fixed or mobile use are available now, while others will roll out this year.

Upgrading the enormous installed base of analog radiographic units is now easier and more economical, as is installing a new DR system. Facilities that invested in the first wave of flat-panel systems are taking a closer look at next-generation technology. Across the board, DR systems, both single detector and multi-detector, feature increased automation in patient position and image processing, including automatic collimation, automatic tracking and organ-specific programming that aim to streamline imaging and help techs complete studies in less time, with fewer retakes.

Like we’ve seen the price of flat-screen TVs drop recently, radiology departments and groups are at the right place at the right time to go digital with DR. Radiology shouldn’t be suffering anticipointment—the merging of anticipation and disappointment. In the computing world, the term is used to describe people eagerly anticipating the price drop on technology products to make them affordable, but at the same time being disappointed knowing a better product is on the horizon. The next-generation of DR is here.

In the bigger healthcare picture in the U.S., we’ll all be watching as President-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated this month. Forecasts of his economic stimulus package project health IT will be a priority to stimulating our economy as well as cutting red tape, preventing medical errors and savings billions of dollars each year. I hope someday we look back at 2009 as the turning point for health IT when the U.S. initiated a 21st century health infrastructure built on harmonized standards for interoperability. Modernization of health records goes far beyond the number of hospitals and physician practices that adopt IT systems. Health IT is a tool to improve clinical outcomes, grow and proliferate best practices and enable personalized medicine—where we all benefit from the knowledge derived from the aggregated information that healthcare data holds. It begins with a plan and is built one facility at a time.