Diagnostic imaging is a critical part of modern medicine, utilizing technology to non-invasively look inside the human body and determine or confirm a patient’s medical condition.
At PeaceHealth United General Medical Center in Sedro-Woolley, the facility’s diagnostic imaging equipment is continuing upgrades to the newest technologies, giving Skagit County patients the same equipment found at bigger hospitals like Bellingham’s PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.
The latest upgrade is a new computed tomography scanner, which is used to conduct what’s commonly referred to as a CT or CAT scan that provides cross-sectional views of bones and soft tissues. “Think of your body as a loaf of bread,” says Rod Dalseg, UG’s director of professional services. “We take a slice out, take picture of it, and put it back in.”
CT scans essentially use narrow beams of radiation—emitted from a narrow, rotating tube surrounding a patient lying flat on a bed inside the tube—to capture different x-ray angles that computer processing then turns into cross-sectional imagery.
A patient usually has a contrast agent injected intravenously into their bloodstream before the scan, so that blood vessels show up more easily in images. The scans are often used to diagnose various tumors, blood clots, heart problems, and complex bone fractures, among other concerns.
PeaceHealth United General’s previous CT scanner, Dalseg says, could complete one scan rotation in about 1 second, creating 64 slices with each loop. The new scanner, however, is a 128-slice machine that completes each rotation in under half the time.
This can reduce a patient’s scan time, though Dalseg said much of the time involved with a CT scan is spent preparing the patient, including the contrast injection.
The new machine also subjects patients to even less radiation than the old CT scanner, and processes information much more efficiently. “Our goal is to provide the highest image quality with the least amount of radiation and better patient comfort,” Dalseg said.
In addition, the scanner has what’s known as an advanced interventional package, allowing technologists and physicians to conduct quicker, more complex biopsies than before.
It also utilizes iMAR, or iterative Metal Artifact Reduction, which helps overcome image quality issues commonly presented by a patient’s artificial implants or joints. This is especially important in areas like the pelvis, where hip replacements are common, when scanning for something like bladder or prostate cancer. “In a normal x-ray, you can’t see any of the anatomy around those because the implant scatters radiation blocks, so you can’t any information around it,” he says. “With the new scanner, all that goes away.”
Another advantage of the new CT scanner is the ability to conduct on-site cardiac CT scans, helping examine patients for potential heart issues. Until now, patients would have needed to visit Bellingham to have these scans done. Now, they don’t have to leave the Skagit Valley.
In addition to the new CT machine, PeaceHealth United General recently upgraded to a new nuclear medicine camera, commonly used for cardiac imaging, and will receive a new MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine that allows for cardiac MRIs. “By the end of October, we’ll have all new equipment,” Dalseg says.
In total, these newer devices will allow PeaceHealth United General patients the full breadth of non-surgical, diagnostic services without having to venture far from home. “That’s our goal: to keep healthcare local,” he says. “If we can do that work here, let’s do it here.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit the PeaceHealth United General Medical Center website.