Digitized x-rays link corridor health care 

Three communities’ cooperative effort yields ‘slick’ teleradiology system

By Vivian Moreau

Imagine you break your leg rippin’ through the trees on Blackcomb and then get transferred from Whistler to Lions Gate hospital in North Vancouver. You’ve already gone through one uncomfortable x-ray session in Whistler. But somewhere in the transfer the envelope of x-rays slip from your fingers and when you arrive at Lions Gate you have to go through the procedure again.

Those days are over, says Joan Dalgleish, Whistler’s manager of diagnostic imaging. This past week a corridor-wide teleradiology system was booted up. The $1.2 million picture archiving communications system (PACS) is a computerized system for storing digitized scans that allows radiologists and doctors anywhere between Pemberton and North Vancouver to view patient x-rays. It’s a giant, efficient leap, says Dalgleish.

“Images are digitized much the same as taking a picture with your digital camera,” Dalgleish said from her Whistler Health Care Centre office. “You take an image and download it to your computer and then you send it by e-mail to all your friends.”

Comparably, digital scans for patients are stored in a communal computer system that can be accessed by various health care centres.

Dalgleish says image quality is not only superb, but the system allows a three-dimensional look at cases.

“Images can be moved around, magnified, lightened, darkened,” she said. “If they (radiologists) are not seeing an area as well as they like they can zoom right in and put different parameters on it to make it easy to read.”

In addition, images do not deteriorate with manipulation.

Funded through the efforts of a unique three-year cooperative effort among Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish health care foundations, and through the regional health district and the Vancouver Health Authority, the teleradiology system makes for efficient use of radiologist’s time but also allows for more comprehensive follow-ups, as Whistler doctors can track the progress of patients transferred to the Lower Mainland.

The picture archiving system works in conjunction with an upgraded corridor-wide computer system that allocates a common identification number to patients and allows for more efficient care.

“So if a doctor at Lions Gate wants to look at films from Whistler she can go in the integrated computer system and find all images tied to that patient. It’s really slick,” said Dalgleish.

WHCC Foundation chair Marnie Simon said the new system is an example of what cooperation can achieve.

“Our communities have a history of being very competitive, but that wasn’t effective in relation to getting what we needed for bigger health care items needed corridor-wide. It didn’t work to pit one against the other.”

When Whistler received a grant three years ago to develop a health care board they decided to share the grant with Squamish and Pemberton and invited them to join forces and participate.

“The corridor is a very large area and there is becoming more of a sense that we have to look corridor-wide rather than focus on individual communities — the boundaries are really not there anymore.”

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