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High-tech equipment on the move

A PET scanner is brought to Citrus Memorial Hospital each Monday to serve patients.

[Times photo: Ron Thompson]
Steve Chapman, operations manager of InSight Health Services, positions Connie Matey, directory of professional services for InSight, during a demonstration of the company's mobile PET scanner.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2001


INVERNESS -- Every Monday, a shiny white trailer is parked on the campus of Citrus Memorial Hospital. The trailer looks simple enough, but inside sits one of medical technology's most powerful weapons: a scanner that performs positron emission tomography, or PET.

PET scans seem similar to magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, but they allow doctors to detect and see disease a different way -- by viewing how cells' metabolic activity and chemistry change.

The scanning equipment belongs to InSight Health Services Corp., a California company that also provides Citrus Memorial's MRI hardware. InSight started bringing the equipment here March 26.

PET scans are particularly helpful as a diagnostic tool for lung cancer, lymphoma, melanoma and colorectal cancer, experts said. Medicare reimburses for tests completed for those purposes and is reviewing several more diseases and conditions.

Here's how the scans work:

Physicians refer patients for the test. Patients wait in the Medical Office Building waiting room until called to the air conditioned trailer, which is parked behind the building.

Technicians check the patient's medical history and check blood glucose levels. Patients then receive, intravenously, a dose of a tracer material.

After a waiting period, the patient is placed on a bed and moved into the scanning unit, which has a large cylinder at its center. The patient remains fully clothed.

Fifty-six detectors in that cylinder read the body's signs during the scan, which can take from 45 minutes to two hours, according to Steve Chapman, operations manager for InSight. A typical scan examines the body between the eyes and thighs.

About 20 or 30 minutes after the test is finished, a radiologist reads the scan results and sends a report to the referring physician.

Chapman said the scan operators often find themselves delivering bad news. But the news actually is good, in a way: If patients have cancer or another serious ailment, the scan will allow doctors to get a head start on treatment; likewise, if a diagnosed patient's scan shows that further treatment would be unlikely to help, at least the patient has that knowledge.

"We're just finding (the problems spots) a lot sooner," Chapman said.

The mobile unit can handle up to eight patients each day. Chapman said quality assurance tests are performed whenever the unit is moved -- a safety measure that far exceeds requirements.

The hospital might consider buying a unit to house on site full time, depending on patient demand.

"It's a great state-of-the-art technology to offer to our customers," said Jerry Jeffries, diagnostic imaging manager at Citrus Memorial.

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