4 Ways Modern Digital Imaging is Different
By Deborah Cameron, Patterson Veterinary
If you’ve noticed that it’s an incredibly exciting time in veterinary digital imaging, you’re not alone. That excitement could be because as digital imaging tools are being used more often in human medicine, vet practices are reaping the benefits.
How? Pet owners, who may have used digital imaging themselves, have a better sense of how the tools can benefit their pets. At the same time, a wider variety of equipment, and better financing options, have made it easier to integrate imaging with other in-house services.
Chris Weaver, Patterson Veterinary’s National Imaging Specialist, has been with the company for six years and travels throughout the U.S. helping practices with the training and installation of digital imaging equipment. His job has given him a front row seat to observe the changes in digital imaging acceptance in practices.
“When I started, we only carried one CT unit. My job was to help doctors add it to their practice and train them on how to use it. Now we’ve gone from having to push information about CT systems out to customers, to managing inquiries all the time from people who want to learn more,” Weaver said.
Weaver talked to us and identified four of the main trends he’s seeing in modern digital imaging.
1. Faster units, more options
Weaver explained that units have improved to the point that there’s now a lot for providers to consider as they look to expand client offerings. This includes upgrades to how systems work, and a wider variety of equipment.
One of the biggest new developments is that units operate faster. How fast? An advanced cone beam CT scanner with a large field of view and high image quality can complete a scan in under a minute. This speed already enhances what has been a gold standard of diagnostic care, making the process safer and easier on patients and clinicians.
In addition, Weaver explained the speed behind helical units. “Generally, as the slice count increases, you’re not looking at an increase in image quality so much as an increase in speed,” he said. “This eliminates the potential for motion, creating cleaner images, and these units range from 8, 16, 32 and 64 slice units all the way up to 128 slice scanners.”
The wider range of equipment Weaver is now able to offer includes 20 different units from three distinct categories. Offerings consist of scanners that fit into general veterinary environments and help with imaging in dentistry, sinuses, orthopedics and pulmonary diagnostics. There are also mobile units used for larger animals at zoos, wild animal parks and aquariums and large multislice, high-functioning units often stationed in clinics.
2. Practices aren’t limited by size, but they have to carefully consider installation
With all the options available, any sized practice can find an option for their space. Practices with an extremely limited footprint can even consider bringing a mobile unit on board if that’s what suits their needs best.
Weaver gives a better idea of how he recommended appropriately sized units for practices he’s worked with: “Some of the small units, all they need is about six by six feet. And multislice units are the space hogs where manufacturer recommendations are 14 by 20 feet.”
While some clinics naturally have the space to accommodate the machine they need, others may be looking at designing a new build or retrofitting the layout of an older office. In those cases, they would have to weigh the costs of equipment, construction and installation against the service and financial benefits of providing imaging within their practice.
At the same time, bringing on a larger machine doesn’t have to require any construction or elaborate installation. In fact, some practices have gotten creative about fitting smaller machines with fewer installation needs into the space they have. Weaver says that he has even seen providers convert existing storage space to make room for the technology or choose a portable machine that fits easily in their existing office.
3. Imaging units are getting easier to pay for
Paying for imaging units doesn’t have to place the same strain on a practice that it used to. As the standard of care in human imaging facilities increases, larger and more efficient units enter the market as refurbished units and what once cost over $300K is now available for $200K. These lower costs automatically shorten a practice’s payback horizon for their investment while providing top-level patient care.
In addition, wider availability of financing options further makes the equipment more affordable. Some programs can even bring costs down to monthly payments that are offset by patient changes for diagnostic services.
4. Results are faster – sometimes within minutes
With modern screening software like Vetology AI, overreads can take as little as five minutes or less. Patterson Teleradiology (PTR) also makes a remote radiologist available to you at any time – and faster evaluations reduce treatment delays and improve patient outcomes.
How does it work? Artificial intelligence software compares your scan to thousands of similar scans in its database and sends practitioners the results of their analysis. If scans aren’t easily readable, positioning validators help staff or doctors retake the image. If there are questions, a professional radiologist is available with answers.
Ongoing use of imaging in practices
With imaging becoming more available to practices of all sizes, matched with larger amounts of available training, veterinarians will likely see more of this in their practices going forward. “I can guarantee that with the current trends, every single specialty center in the United States either has a CT or they have plans to remodel for one,” said Weaver.
That level of diagnostics can only be a good thing for practice care and he explained why.
“No matter what the type selected by a practice, the machines offer a deeper and more thorough look at a patient’s anatomy. It basically amounts to another piece of the diagnostic puzzle. And the more information that’s gathered about patients, the better.”