Nuclear medicine new to PMC

Pioneer Medical Center’s new nuclear medicine program is currently a mobile unit contracted with Diagnostic Imaging (Pocatello, Idaho), but there is the possibility of investing in a permanent unit in the future.

MEEKER | A mere four weeks ago, in addition to other state of the art technology recently launched, Pioneers Medical Center added “nuclear medicine imaging” to its services, a year-long process that has finally arrived.

Greg Hanberg, PMC’s radiology director, discussed this cutting edge technology with the HT. Hanberg received his radiology training at Weber State University (Ogden, Utah) and his bachelor’s degree in health administration at Montana State (Bozeman), he went on to work at Billings Clinic, a 500 bed hospital, where he received more specialized training.

While Hanberg does not perform this particular specialized area of imagining—his specialties are X-ray and CT—he did set up the nuclear medicine (or NucMed) program and is quite knowledgeable about imaging in general.

“All imaging is about densities within the body,” he said. “NucMed is a different way of imaging than traditional radiology.”

X-ray imaging, for example, which has actually been around since 1896, uses electromagnetic waves to make an image in different shades of black and white, since different tissues absorb different amounts of radiation. Calcium in bones absorbs X-rays the most, so bones look white; soft tissues, such as fats, absorb less, and look gray; and air absorbs the least, so lungs look black.

“CT (computerized tomography) scan is a step up from X-ray,” Hanberg explained. “It spins around you to get a 3-D reconstruction of body parts, similar to the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging),”

“NucMed (however) is a completely different ball game where you inject a (radioactive) isotope, such as technetium or  I-131 (radioactive iodine). The radioactive emissions are then detected by a special camera,” and then rendered in a color image.

Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam, this “radiotracer” is either injected into the body, swallowed or inhaled as a gas. It eventually accumulates in the organ or area of the body being examined.

Among the most frequent targets of NucMed is the heart. It shows what an X-ray cannot, such as damage that has resulted from a heart attack or whether the heart is healthy enough for surgery. The great advantage of NucMed, then, is that it actually shows functionality, which X-ray and CT cannot do.

Other applications for NucMed include diagnosing respiratory and blood flow problems in the lungs, evaluating bones for fractures, infection and arthritis, investigating the brain for abnormalities such as the early onset of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, and much more.

As one can imagine, this technology comes with a price tag. While a conventional X-ray costs $300–500 and a CT $1,000–3,000, NucMed is $4,000–5,000. This is due not only to the advanced technology but also the time factor. Instead of 30 minutes for an X-ray or CT, this takes three to four hours.

Instead of investing as much as $1 million on their own unit, PMC has instead contracted with Diagnostic Imaging, a company in Pocatello, Idaho. Everything is contained inside a mobile unit, similar to a utility truck, that is now parked onsite. This allows a simple “pay-per-patient” option. “Right now this is a win-win for everyone,” Hanberg commented.

While there have been only 10 patients so far, that number will no doubt increase, so it is possible that PMC will have its own unit in the future, as do hospitals in Craig, Glenwood, Rifle and other larger hospitals. When PMC built its new facility, space was allotted for that possibility.

Nuclear medicine is another example of PMC’s continued growth.

By Doc Watson | Special to the Herald Times

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