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NWT hospitals upgrade to digital

Tim Edwards
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, March 26, 2009

NWT - By the end of March, Stanton Territorial Hospital will have replaced its old film imaging technology with a new digital system.

"Today marks a technological milestone in the NWT," said Health Minister and Range Lake MLA Sandy Lee.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Health Minister and Range Lake MLA Sandy Lee, left, and Stanton radiologist Dr. Don Beach talk to the press about the transition from film to digital imaging at NWT hospitals, in front of the viewer three high-grade computer monitors. - Tim Edwards/NNSL photo

The images that radiologists get from things like X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and ultrasound sonograms, referred to as diagnostic images, have been, until recently, printed and distributed on film.

The problem with film in the NWT, said Robin Greig, director of operations at the Stanton Territorial Health Authority, was that when these images were taken at hospitals and community health centres, they would then have to be developed, which could take a day or two, after which they were transported to the Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife for a radiologist to write a report about what was going on in the film, and then the film and report was shipped back to the community.

"This process takes a variable number of days. With our new system, all this can be done in a matter of hours," said Greig.

The new system transfers the image from the scanner to the main digital archive, where it can be accessed from any hospital or community health clinic throughout the NWT. Images can be viewed by any number of physicians any time, simultaneously.

Another problem in dealing with film, he said, was in storage, sometimes images would get lost or misplaced. Then the patient would have to retake the scan.

"This is safer for the patients, as it reduces exposure to radiation," said Greig.

The images are now stored in a large computer archive called DI/PACS (Diagnostic Imaging Picture Archival and Communications System), and Yellowknife will hold the main archive for the NWT at Stanton hospital.

"We have about 10 years worth of storage," said Greig.

Regional hospitals in both Yellowknife and Fort Smith will have this system in place by the end of March, then Hay River and Inuvik by the end of April. After that, 18 community health centres across the NWT will have the system by April 2010.

The total cost of the project is $5.9 million. Canada Health Infoway, a not-for-profit organization funded by the federal government, is contributing $4.3 million, while the government of the NWT is paying for the remaining $1.6 million.

Included in these costs is the retraining of the technologists who operate the scanners and who used to develop the film images.