For Brent Lautenschlager and others at South Peninsula Hospital, the new CT machine is like a Christmas gift for the entire community.
Since October 2019 when the 2.5-ton computerized tomography scanner was delivered, Lautenschlager, the hospital’s diagnostic imaging director, has been sharing office space with it in the hospital’s storage area while renovations could be completed to accommodate it.
With little fanfare but a lot of excitement among the hospital’s diagnostic imaging staff, the state-of-the-art machine was moved upstairs into renovated space Monday. The move took slightly less than eight hours with a crew of eight people. Installation will be completed this week and staff will be trained on the basics next week. It will go into use the following week, provided special lead-lined doors arrive any moment as expected.
It’s a great start to 2021, said those involved.
Not only will the new CT provide a whole new level of information to physicians, particularly when it comes to heart issues, it also will be much more patient-friendly, said Dr. Edson Knapp, the hospital’s interventional radiologist, the person who interprets the images the CT provides.
The old scanner wasn’t fast enough to get good images of the heart. While an ultrasound can image the heart, it’s unable to see the arteries, Knapp said.
“This scanner will allow us to image those arteries,” he said.
That’s important so people experiencing chest pain aren’t sent to Anchorage for a problem that could be treated locally, potentially saving tens of thousands of dollars for an unnecessary medical evacuation flight.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of a CT in making or confirming a diagnosis, and every medical specialty has its own specialized CT exams. The images a CT provides can, for example, help a urologist figure out why patients have blood in their urine, show how a patient is doing after surgery, determine if someone has osteoporosis and guide in the placement of needles to help manage back pain.
And that’s just a small sample of the CT machine’s capabilities.
“We image patients for just about everything,” said Lautenschlager, who manages the 24-employee radiology department. “It gives a much more complete picture of a patient than a plain or flat X-ray.”
At the hospital, there’s an average of two to six procedures done every day on the CT machine, Knapp said.
The new machine is a 128-slice scanner, compared to the old 64-slice machine. In other words, the new machine gives twice the number of images per revolution as the old one did.
In addition, the new CT scanner reduces radiation exposure, as well as the time needed to get better images, Knapp and Lautenschlager said. The reduction in radiation is significant particularly for patients with chronic illnesses, who require CT scans more frequently than other people. Knapp estimated the speed of the new scanner will reduce the amount of time patients spend on the table by about 30%.
The new machine also will allow the hospital to offer exams that currently are unavailable, including a virtual colonography, which allows a look at the colon without a colonoscopy. Patients still must do the bowel prep, and a colonoscopy will happen if something is found, Knapp said. But physicians will be able to get that information without the invasive procedure having to be done first.
“The risks of a colonoscopy aren’t there. You lay down on the table — and zip. It’s pretty cool technology,” Knapp said.
Physicians won’t be the only ones who will notice improvements with the new scanner. Patients also will have a better experience, including with a more patient-friendly location.
The renovation part of the CT scanner project moved the scanner closer to the emergency room. That’s no small matter. Previously, people who had been in a car accident, for example, and needed a CT scan in order to determine the extent of their injuries had to be rolled down four hallways and through five turns and three doorways, Lautenschlager said.
Now, it’s one hallway to the machine, shaving off as many as three to four minutes — which could be lifesaving in some situations.
The room where the old CT scanner was located was “very dysfunctional,” Lautenschlager said. Its shortcomings included being too small to get a team of ER nurses and doctors inside in critical situations, he said. That problem has been solved.
The new CT suite also allows the radiologist to spend more time with the patient and less time stepping out of the room looking at images. The images now can be seen right there at the patient’s side.
The noise from a fan that air-cooled the old machine made it difficult to have meaningful conversations with a patient. The new one is water cooled, making it much quieter.
A mural of the northern lights on the wall behind the scanner and distraction lighting of a night sky on the ceiling also contribute to a much better patient experience.
“The friendly environment keeps patients calm. It’s designed for calmness. It provides a sense of peace. It’s a quiet room,” Knapp said.
All of which adds up to a higher standard of care and a better experience for the patient, Knapp and Lautenschlager said.
The new machine and remodeling cost approximately $2.1 million; $703,000 of that was for the CT scanner, and came from hospital service area funds. The project included patient recovery space; patient comfort improvements; workflow upgrades; heating, ventilation and air conditioning improvements; electrical renovation; code improvements; and built-in chambers for medical gas (previously only bottled oxygen was available). Steiner’s North Star Construction was the contractor.
The project has been about five years in the making, when people started to realize that as the machine aged and things started to go wrong with it, more down time was needed to fix it. Changes in technology not only meant a new machine could do more and do it faster but also lessen a patient’s exposure to radiation.
Staff first will train on the basics of operating the machine, before moving on to learn how to image the heart and do other new exams like the colonography, Knapp said.