Area doctors enlist high-tech X-rays in hunt for health

Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2005


  Dr. Henry Krull, right, and Porter Pollard radiologic technologist, study a knee X-ray on a hightech, diagnostic work station monitor at Kenai Peninsula Orthopaedics in Soldotna. Photo by Phil Hermanek

Dr. Henry Krull, right, and Porter Pollard radiologic technologist, study a knee X-ray on a hightech, diagnostic work station monitor at Kenai Peninsula Orthopaedics in Soldotna.

Photo by Phil Hermanek

In addition to eliminating the need for film and developing chemicals, high-tech electronic X-ray equipment affords an orthopedic surgeon enhanced diagnostic abilities.

In conjunction with its move into a brand new building on Fireweed Avenue in March, Kenai Peninsula Orthopaedics in Soldotna decided to go with the latest in technology, wiring the clinic with its own intranet, incorporating electronic charting and switching to electronic X-rays — the first medical practice on the Kenai Peninsula to do so.

The X-rays provide a better picture, according to Dr. Henry Krull, who operates the practice with Dr. Peter Ross.

Krull said surgeons now have the ability to enlarge the image of a patient's knee or shoulder or other body part without losing detail.

"We can see the minute bone structure, and we can measure the size of lesions or fractures right on the screen," Krull said.

The X-ray room itself looks no different than before, with an examining room equipped with the usual X-ray equipment, transformer and patient exam table, but a plain-looking computer drive replaces the controls the radiologist once had, and the need for a darkroom with all its developing chemicals has been eliminated.

"Now we use an imaging plate instead of film," said Porter Pollard, radiologic technologist for the clinic.

The plate is inserted into the computer — a Fuji Smart CR, which stands for computer radiography — and the X-ray image appears on a computer monitor in the operator's control room.

The image can then be sent to the clinic's internal intranet and the doctors can view it on hand-held notebook computers that can be carried from room to room throughout the facility.

An extremely sensitive computer monitor is mounted at a central location in a corridor outside the X-ray room, where surgeons can do diagnostic work.

Pollard said he can shoot five various views of a patient's body part, as ordered by the doctor, and have the X-rays ready and the patient back into an examining room within five to eight minutes.

"In the old way, it took at least three minutes per film in the darkroom," Pollard said.

"That meant, if there were five images, it would be at least 15 minutes in the darkroom, and having to breathe all those chemicals," he said.

Krull predicts that within five to seven years, electronic X-rays will be mandated by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency that oversees those medical-care programs.

"At this point, the cost (of electronic versus film X-rays) is roughly the same, because the technology is very expensive," Krull said.

The new equipment at Kenai Peninsula Orthopaedics costs in upward of $100,000. The clinic spent more than $50,000 on electronic records keeping, too.

"CMS also has encouraged doctors to transmit patient medical records and billing electronically," Krull said.

The chief advantage of electronic charting, according to the clinic's office manager Kathy Gauthier, is time savings.

"I can pull up a patient's record like that," Gauthier said, snapping her fingers. "I don't have to go get the file and thumb through it to find what I'm looking for. I can just push a button, and there's the record."

She also said the software system, known as "e-MDs," cuts down on errors.

"With our system, we take a digital photo of the patient and attach it to the file," Gauthier said.

"If you have two people with the same name or a junior and a senior, identification is 100 percent improved," she said.

The electronic system also eliminates the need for a separate room full of file cabinets, a file room for patient charts and a roomful of X-rays.

Gauthier said the practice creates an electronic tape backup of files daily and stores the records off-site.

In addition to internal efficiency improvements, electronic charting allows the clinic to send claims electronically to insurance companies, electronically fax prescriptions to pharmacies and receive remittances electronically from Medicare and Medicaid.

"It saves a lot of time and resources," she said.

"Ultimately, as the cost of technology comes down, the cost of health care may come down, as well," said Krull.

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