Local Health Goes Digitial
MMH TO RECEIVE NEW DIGITAL MAMMOGRAPHY MACHINE NEXT MONTH
BY: TARA DEROCK MAHONEY
wellness care for women in Morgan County is about to get a lot faster.
When Morgan Memorial Hospital takes receipt next month of a new digital mammography machine, they will be able to compete on an even footing with the diagnostic technologies of the biggest hospitals in the area.
“We’ve been getting two to three calls a week asking if we have digital mammography,” said Radiology Manager Kaye Utley at a Morgan Hospital Authority meeting last month.
The new machine—which will completely replace the current mammography unit that relies on very sharp, very clear, but relatively old-fashioned films developed in an on-site darkroom—will indeed be the future. Currently, radiology technicians use the existing mammography machine to take a sort of x-ray of breast tissue. Those scans are developed on-site, in a darkroom, on good old-fashioned film, and they can show women developing problems such as cysts or fibrous areas in the breast tissue—and help women prevent breast cancer. The new system, however, will generate all-digital images of the breast.
“What we have now is great,” said technician Kim Sitzmann, who currently handles about 90 percent of the mammograms at Morgan Memorial. “It’s a great system and a great image…but the new system will allow us to manipulate the images much more easily.”
“The benefits of digital mammography are that the radiologist can manipulate the images to get a better [diagnosis],” said Utley. “The digital images are also helpful for women aged 35 to 50, whose breasts are denser—the radiologist can more easily look at those images.”
Right now, a doctor of radiology must come to the hospital once a week to review the films of the completed mammograms for diagnostic purposes. Among other benefits, the new machine will allow instant access to digital images; these images can be viewed immediately by an on-site doctor, when necessary, or reviewed by radiologists who are not on Morgan Memorial’s campus.
“Radiologists will be able to manipulate the digital images to better analyze the breast tissue,” said Sitzmann.
Of course, it may go without saying that this leap into the future will carry a future-sized price-tag. Morgan Memorial will lease a digital mammography machine, which can run $180,000 or so if purchased outright. But the demand for the service in the healthcare marketplace, combined with a higher reimbursement rate from insurance companies for the digital scans as opposed to the current film scans, actually make the purchase a smart move, said hospital finance director Darlena Kinnett last month.
“We’ll see an up-tick in reimbursements [for mammograms] because the digital mammography is paid at a higher rate than is standard mammography,” said Kinnett. “That up-tick in reimbursements will pay for the new technology in the first year,” she said.
The new machine could also result in a doubling of the number of the mammograms completed at Morgan Memorial, from the 20 or so currently done each week to 150 or more each month. Most of those women come from Morgan County and the Greensboro area, according to Sitzmann.
“It’s better-quality patient care, and we get paid to do it—it’s a no-brainer, really,” said Kinnett.
The hospital authority made the decision to lease rather than buy in part because of the upcoming hospital construction project that it expects to be in the works later this year. A bond issue to help fund the new facility is likely, and the lease of the digital mammography machine will help preserve the hospital’s liquidity in the coming months.
“Leasing is an effective way of keeping cutting-edge technologies in the hospital,” said Morgan Memorial Interim CEO Brandon Jolley.
Hospital officials also pointed out that the new machine will be completely transferrable to the new facility being planned for the community, which may have a complete Women’s Center for radiology.
“The first question female patients ask is, ‘Do you have a digital mammography machine?’” said Authority chairman Terry Evans at a January board meeting. “It’s the future.”
Printed in the February 26, 2009 edition.