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Digital Mammography

Medical Center’s Imaging Department has just completed
its migration from the world of film photography to that of digital with the installation of cutting-edge digital mammography equipment.

Imaging Department technologists began using the new Selenia Dimensions mammography machine manufactured by industry leader Hologic Inc. in March. The $300,000 machine was purchased with the assistance of an $83,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development and $82,000 donated by the Rhea County community.

Digital mammography is not new to the market but now with improved technology, Scott Miller, Rhea Medical Imaging director, said he felt it was time to get on board.

“This unit takes digital mammography to the next level.  The system we are now installing is two generations ahead of other systems in this region,” he said.

Miller said he expects the machine—the latest available in the world of mammography—to reduce patient exam time for mammogram appointments from 30 minutes to 15.

“There’s no comparison to how much quicker you can do it with digital technology,” he said.

With Rhea Medical’s new digital machine, each image is displayed on a monitor next to the machine in less than five seconds. No film to process. No uncomfortable waiting on behalf of the patient while a technologist leaves to fetch an image.

As soon as the images are saved, a radiologist is able to view them immediately, Miller added. On analog (film based) machines, once a mammogram is taken of a patient’s breast, the technologist has to step out of the room and wait two minutes for each of four images to process onto film, Miller said, which can lead to more anxiety for an eager patient.

“We’re decreasing the anxiety to the patient because the wait time is less,” Miller said. “The tech never leaves the room.”

The digital mammography unit also gives the radiologists the ability to enhance contrast and “zoom in” on a portion of the breast image, improving the accuracy of their reports. Because the images are digital, they can be transmitted almost immediately to the patient’s physician or another medical center, and patients can be given a CD copy within minutes.

After just a few days of using the digital machine, veteran Imaging Technologist Edie Shaver said patients can tell a difference.

“Patients are excited because they know it’s something new,” she said. “To me it’s unbelievable. We pride ourselves on offering great service. We feel this will allow us to improve even further.”

But the brand new machine isn’t just faster like a digital camera. Imagine buying a digital camera that can soon take pictures in 3-D.

In February the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new method already widely used in other countries – tomosynthesis. Much like a photograph, traditional mammography only captures a 2-D image of a patient’s breast. But tomosynthesis allows doctors and patients to get a three-dimensional view of tissue.

Rhea Medical’s new equipment comes ready-made for the new technique. Soon local patients can expect to take advantage of it at Rhea Medical Center, according to Miller and Rhea Medical Center CEO Ken Croom.

Only one other hospital in East Tennessee has equipment as up-to-date as Rhea Medical’s.

“It’s here,” Croom said. “You don’t have to drive long distances to reach an imaging center with the highest technology. You have it here in Rhea County. It’s yours.”

Rhea Medical Center has had its sight set on the equipment for nearly two years. With a concerted effort between hospital administration, the board of directors, the Rhea Medical Center Healthcare Foundation and the Rhea County community, enough funds were raised to purchase the digital  unit this spring.

Croom said as soon as Chief Radiologist Dr. Lebron Lackey pinpointed the need for the equipment, the hospital decided to get the very best technology on the market.

“We wanted to have it for Rhea County,” he said. “[We decided:] Let’s not buy last year’s technology. Let’s buy next year’s technology.”

“We’re on the leading edge of equipment,” Miller echoed.

Technologist Jeannie Martin said even though the machinery is a bit different, Rhea Medical’s healthcare professionals already know how to utilize it well.

“There is no learning curve for us,” she said. “It’s the same positioning and graphics; it’s just a different machine.”

But even with a top-notch camera, great photography must come from a great photographer. Technologist Shaver said the fact that Rhea Medical is one of the first to have the equipment is only an added benefit to the unbeatable care that Rhea Medical Center patients already receive.

“They’re not going to find this anywhere else in southeast Tennessee,” she said. “How fortunate we are to have this and the great radiologists we have here.”

Miller agreed.

“It just complements everything else we have—the great radiologists and the great technologists.”



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Rhea Medical Center | 9400 Rhea County Highway | Dayton, TN 37321
Phone: (423) 775-1121