Technology Advances Help Area Hospitals Stay Ahead

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — New investments in technology and diagnostic equipment have helped hospitals in the region raise the ante in terms of patient care in the Mahoning Valley, administrators say.

Advances in imaging, cardiac care, screening for lung and colon cancer and preventive medicine are changing how health care is delivered in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys. This is evidenced by new procedures and technology at ValleyCare Health System of Ohio’s Trumbull Memorial Hospital, Akron Children’s Hospital, The Surgical Hospital at Southwoods, Sharon Regional Health System, and Salem Regional Medical Center.

“At the end of last year, we installed a new CT scan machine – one that was very child-friendly,” reports Lisa Taafe, clinical administrative director of the Mahoning Valley Beeghly campus of Akron Children’s Hospital. The new CT scanning machine uses the lowest dose of radiation possible that compromise the images, part of the nationwide Image Gently campaign.

The quantities of radiation given a patient through CT scans can build up over time, so it’s imperative that doses remain as low as possible for children. “We decrease the exposure,” Taafe says, “but the pictures are great.”

Meanwhile, the hospital continues to improve its ultrasound imaging and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, which require no radiation exposure, Taafe says. New investment is expected over the next several months to upgrade the hospital’s ultrasound imaging equipment, she says.

As new imaging investments take hold, Akron Children’s plans to open a new pediatrics vision center at the campus in Boardman, Taafe reports. “We’ll open a five-day-a-week practice on July 20,” she says. Dr. Richard Hertle, director of pediatric ophthalmology and Akron Children’s Vision Center, will be its head. The center will be relocated from the Boardman Medical Pavilion near St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital.

“Our new center will include two exam rooms, two testing rooms and additional space, allowing us to perform certain diagnostic tests that we currently send patient families to Akron to have done,” Hertle said in a statement.

The doctors at the center treat patients with eye injuries, retinopathy of prematurity, problems with eye muscles, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, glaucoma and cataracts, as well as perform routine corrective services.

Salem Regional Medical Center continues to make advances in its imaging technology and diagnostic techniques, says its director of public relations, Michele Hoffmeister. For example, the hospital was the first between Cleveland and Pittsburgh to offer 3T Open MRI, which allows for twice the magnetic strength of older MRI scanners and therefore twice the detail. This results in much more accurate images and early diagnosis of diseases when they are at the most curable stages.

“Physicians in nearly every specialty rely on Salem Regional for the latest diagnostic techniques that are the foundation of excellent medical care, and oftentimes the key to saving lives,” she says.

The hospital’s medical imaging department uses Dual-Source 128-Slice Computed Tomography CT scans, a high-resolution imaging system that can capture 128 images simultaneously in a sixth of a second. The equipment is fast enough to capture the image of a beating heart and diagnose a heart attack before it occurs.

In addition, the Dual-128 CT scan provides coronary CT angiography, used to diagnose coronary artery disease, and Virtual CT Colonoscopy, used to screen for and diagnose colon cancer.

Innovations in the prevention of esophageal cancer are underway at Sharon Regional Health System, the hospital notes. In February, the health system introduced a new outpatient treatment that destroys pre-cancerous tissue in the lining of the esophagus, known as Barrett’s disease.

Barrett’s disease is the result the esophagus being exposed to the gastric contents of the stomach through gastroesophageal reflux disease. This condition can cause normal cells in the esophagus to undergo genetic changes, which could lead to cancer. Esophageal cancer is the fastest-growing form of cancer in the United States. Because the disease usually isn’t diagnosed until it’s in the advanced stages, it’s often incurable.

The procedure entails positioning an ablation catheter on the abnormal tissue that delivers a burst of energy that removes a thin layer of the affected tissue. Then the tissue regenerates as normal, eliminating or substantially reducing the risk of cancer.

Additional investment at ValleyCare’s Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren has allowed specialists to examine the conditions they find in their patients with more clarity and detail than ever before, notes Melissa Herman, cardiovascular service line director at Trumbull Memorial.

“We’ve just upgraded our catheter lab within the last two months,” she says. Lab 1 – which handles electrophysiology cases — is now outfitted with some of the most highly advanced X-ray equipment on the market, she says. “We now have a flex-vision monitoring system – a large monitor the size of a large flat-screen TV,” she says.

The upgrade allows the lab to perform ablations on site as well, Herman says. “We have the most up-to-date equipment for ablation work. In the past, we had limited capabilities. Now, the patients can be treated here.”

Trumbull Memorial started its electrophysiology department in 2010, and the recent upgrade is an example of how the hospital is moving ahead to the next level of care, Herman notes.

The two other catheter labs – Lab 2 deals with vascular work and Lab 3 is reserved for cardiac care – have also enjoyed recent technological upgrades in its imaging capabilities, Herman says. Intravascular ultrasound technology, as well as FFR equipment that monitors the pressure of the heart internally, are major improvements that stand to benefit patients.

“The clarity and image quality is so much better,” she says. “The ability to [determine the] size [of] a blockage is more specific than it was three or four years ago.”

The number of patients is on the increase at the Surgical Hospital at Southwoods in Boardman, which last year launched its new Southwoods Imaging department, reports Angela Kerns, chief nursing officer.

“It’s been really well received by the community,” Kerns says of the imaging center. “It’s all new machinery.”

The goal of Southwoods is to ascertain the needs of residents of the Mahoning Valley and then provide here the treatments or diagnostic services they need so they don’t have to travel to Pittsburgh or Cleveland. “Our focus is to find out what the patients need and keep them in the Valley,” she says.

Southwoods Imaging, for example, has two 3T MRI machines, Kerns says. “We’ve been doing a lot of orthopedic cases,” she says. And, the department recently purchased a technology package capable of able imaging blood vessels without patients consuming contrasting dyes. “It’s been great to have that because it a real improvement for renal-impaired patients in the Valley,” Kerns says.

Mammography has also improved through 3-D tomography imaging. “It takes fine slices of dense tissue and can pick up details you wouldn’t normally be able to see,” the chief nursing officer says. “With tomography, we can pick it up and then further investigate with a full-breast ultrasound.”

All of this is part of ongoing investments in technology at Southwoods, Kerns notes, technology aimed at providing the best care for the patient. “We’ve been able to pick up some cancers early that otherwise would not have been seen,” she says, “allowing patients to seek treatment early.”

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