Saint Mary's Hones In On New Technologies

November 27, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — A peek inside Saint Mary’s Health Care reveals some of the latest and greatest in new health care technology.

Saint Mary’s is the only health care system in Grand Rapids using computerized physician order entry (CPOE) throughout its entire system, so patient-specific information can be shared at the point where care is provided. A 2006 survey of hospital systems showed that Saint Mary’s was one of only 3 percent of hospitals that use the CPOE system.

“When a patient from Jenison, for example, is seen in the emergency department, the office visit information is readily available, so it really helps in the delivery of accurate services,” explained Susan Hoppough, Saint Mary’s director of research and innovation.

Saint Mary’s implemented the CPOE system three years ago, and it’s considered by many in health care to be the “holy grail,” Hoppough noted. It affects physicians’ efficiency in caring for patients and has been repeatedly shown to increase patient safety through error reduction, she added.

In addition to using CPOE, Saint Mary’s has acquired a Fotofinder dermoscope, a “mole mapping” technology used for skin cancer and melanoma treatment that provides more accurate and earlier detection. The dermoscope aids in the diagnosis of pigmented lesions that could be melanoma and analyzes lesions that could become troublesome, Hoppough said.

The health care system also has introduced digital mammography, one of the most recent advances in X-ray technology, to four of its facilities. The technology records the image differently than regular wet film production. But it’s not for everyone, Hoppough said: It’s better for women under 50 and women who have dense breasts.

State-of-the-art robotic technology is exemplified at Saint Mary’s by the daVinci surgical system, which enables surgeons to perform even the most complex and delicate procedures through very small incisions.

“It allows oncologists to remove prostate and gynecologic cancers with unmatched precision,” she pointed out. “The surgeon needs to only create tiny openings to insert instruments, which provides for shorter hospital stays and quicker recoveries.”

Saint Mary’s advanced 64-slice CT scanner is a fast, non-invasive technology that helps physicians diagnose diseases and conditions. The scanner uses X-ray equipment to capture detailed images of parts of the body. The images collected during the scan are interpreted by a computer to create three-dimensional views of the area of the body under study. The level of detail enables health care providers to detect very small tumors and diagnose problems in almost any organ of the body.

The Lacks Cancer Center at Saint Mary’s was among the first centers in the world to develop a TomoTherapy program. TomoTherapy is considered the latest progression in image-guiding radiation. It’s an integrated CAT scanner and radiation therapy that allows high-energy radiation through extremely accurate patient positioning, Hoppough said, so doctors can image and treat a patient in the same location.

The “doorless vault” for radiation treatment is an invention of Tewfik Bichay, Ph.D., a medical physicist in radiation oncology at the Lacks Center. The doorless vault design is highly efficient at stopping radiation from exiting the room and provides a more comfortable space for the patient, Hoppough said. Patent issuance on the invention is anticipated in the very near future. Hoppough also said Saint Mary’s surgical oncologists are also developing a new medical device and that they have signed a licensing agreement to move it into the marketplace. 

Respiratory gating is a new technology that monitors a patient’s respiration and is programmed to pulse radiation only when the tumor is in the optimal location. The patient doesn’t have to hold his breath and the doctor doesn’t have to hope that the tumor is in the right place. Nor is there any worry about it radiating healthy tissue, Hoppough explained.

“It really allows you to give a focused, concentrated delivery of radiation at a higher dose. This is pretty darn new and pretty darn innovative, and it’s something we are proud to have.”

Saint Mary’s uses a Bond IHC (immunohistochemistry) system to detect tumor markers, viruses, and other prognostic indicators. The machine processes slides with patient tissues, blood samples, etc, using different antibodies to stain the samples to determine the presence of irregularities. The end result is used by pathologists to form diagnoses. Saint Mary’s and Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine are the only two locations in the state that currently have Bond IHC, Hoppough noted.

In partnership with MSU, Saint Mary’s has just hired a neuro-ophthalmologist who will be using Optical Coherence Tomography, a real-time, non-evasive imaging device that uses near infrared light to measure internal tissue micro-structures in the retina. The technology allows researchers to see pathologies at their earliest stage with unprecedented detail and clarity. Hoppough said OCT has been used to evaluate patients with glaucoma, macular degeneration, retinal detachments and other such abnormalities in the physical structure of the eye. The neuro-ophthalmologist will look at the retina in a far different way, however, by looking at the retina’s exosomes, which are part of the nervous system, she explained.

“It’s an opportunity to look for early degeneration in such diseases as multiple sclerosis and predict and diagnose things at an earlier stage,” she indicated.

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