Radiologists Are After PET Scanner

September 27, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — A Grand Rapids radiology group is bidding to host the first, and likely the only, PET scanner in West Michigan by forging a working partnership with area hospitals.

A year after lawmakers maneuvered to generate changes in state standards and open the high-tech medical imaging device to new markets in Michigan, Advanced Radiology Services is planning to seek approval to operate a PET scanner at its new quarters at 3264 North Evergreen Drive, near the East Beltline in Grand Rapids Township.

Advanced Radiology, consisting of 14 radiologists, recently formed West Michigan Imaging Services LLC to acquire and operate a PET scanner. The LLC’s goal is to develop a consortium of hospitals and physicians in a joint project.

“We’re trying to get this done in a way that we give state-of-the-art PET services to this community and do it in a way that will be very efficient,” said Dr. Paul Shreve, who has a decade of experience working with PET and recently joined Advanced Radiology to lead efforts to bring the technology to the region.

The group is working on the venture with Spectrum Health and Saint Mary’s Mercy Medical Center to provide PET services in a neutral, “non-threatening” setting that both patients and physicians are comfortable using and that assures equal access to all parties, Advanced Radiology Administrator Marilyn Savidge said.

“It’s inconvenient for people to have to go to a hospital to have this done. We can run it mean and lean and more conveniently,” Savidge said.

PET scanners — short for positron-emission tomography — enable physicians to detect and diagnose several forms of cancer in their early stages, potentially avoiding invasive procedures, as well as monitor the disease and plan a patient’s treatment. PET scanners are also helpful in treating heart disease and the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and many expect the technology to rapidly evolve further into new areas.

The parties involved in the $3.65 million venture — which includes the cost of a PET scanner and facility improvements to host it — are still working out the ownership stake each will have in the scanner, although all stress the main emphasis right now is the cooperation involved in bringing a PET scanner to Grand Rapids.

“Ownership is not the issue here. It’s getting it done and getting it done in a way that’s efficient for the community,” Savidge said.

The Michigan Certificate of Need Commission last December adopted new standards governing the use of PET scanners in the state. The rule change allows for the operation of as many as 18 new scanners — nine in southeast Michigan, and the other nine distributed equally around the state, with one of those earmarked for the Grand Rapids market.

Previous CON rules limited the number of PET scanners licensed in the state to three, all of which are held by hospitals in southeast Michigan. That means physicians in West Michigan who want a PET scan done on a patient have had to send them to the other side of the state.

“Oncologists are sending people across the state and it’s ridiculous,” Shreve said.

West Michigan Imaging Services LLC submitted a letter of intent to the Michigan Department of Community Heath last month for a fixed-site PET scanner and plans to forward a full CON application soon. The goal is to have the project approved in time to begin operations next spring.

Backers of the effort hope to eventually offer other medical imaging services at the site, Savidge said.

Advanced Radiology is the second group in Grand Rapids seeking to launch high-level and lucrative medical imaging services. Orthopaedic Associates of Grand Rapids PC plans to initiate its own MRI services via two mobile MRI scanners hosted at Grand Valley Health Plan’s Leonard Street surgical center. The project will further help to ease lengthy delays physicians have in accessing MRI scans for their patients and comes several months after the CON Commission updated MRI standards to allow more of the devices.

Orthopaedic Associates’ physicians decided to venture into the MRI business to serve its own patient load, Administrator Jan Maskell told the Alliance for Health’s CON Evaluation Board during a review.

“It was in the name of patient care. One thing where we were really having trouble is getting an MRI scan for our patients,” Maskell said. “They wanted the ability to schedule an MRI when it’s convenient for their patients, not for somebody else.”

With non-hospital organizations getting into the medical imaging for MRIs and PETs, the Alliance for Health’s Lody Zwarensteyn hopes to see better pricing for the services. Non-hospital groups don’t have the same massive overhead as hospitals — such as running a 24-hour emergency room — to take into account when pricing their services, Zwarensteyn said.

“Without the overhead, that’s pure profit alone. Why not give the customer a break?” he said.    

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