Munson’s new network speeds up turnaround of X-ray reports

TRAVERSE CITY – A new computer network that allows radiologists, physicians and specialists to view a patient's X-ray images within hours or, in some cases, minutes of being taken will result in quicker care for patients of Munson Healthcare in northern Michigan.

RadNet, which went on line in June, merges high-quality digital images with patient information and radiology reports into an electronic medical file or record that can be accessed by Munson physicians and clinics in Traverse City, Kalkaska and Frankfort, as well as affiliate hospitals and clinics in Cadillac and Grayling. Images can even be viewed by physicians in their homes via the Internet, using a firewall-protected website with several layers of password protection.

"One of our goals with the system is to improve patient care by providing physicians with more timely information," said Dan Fly, director of Munson's Radiology Systems. "By creating multiple points of access, a physician can view images almost as soon as they're taken, probably within two hours instead of waiting a couple of days."

For instance, Fly said, a patient in Grayling transferring to Munson can have his or her electronic medical record read by a Traverse City physician, who can assemble a healthcare team before the patient arrives. Similarly, preparations can be made for patients arriving for trauma treatment.

Munson Radiologist Dr. Todd Kennell, of Grand Traverse Radiologists, PC, said the two areas where patients will likely notice the most difference are in the emergency room and critical care unit. Emergency room and critical care patients need lab studies, and he estimates that over half need X-rays. Faster X-ray reports mean fewer patient hours spent in those areas.

"From the radiologist's side, doctors can't wait an hour for X-rays, not just because of the critical nature of an injury or illness but due to the sheer numbers of people waiting to be seen."

In the "old days," Kennell said, the X-rays were on film. To retrieve the films, someone had to physically access the file room, then paperwork had to be pulled and brought to the radiologist, who would dictate his or her report into a tape recorder. The tape would be transcribed and the typed report sent back to the radiologist for a signature before being physically faxed or delivered to a physician's office. It might take a half day or full day to put a report together, unless something was flagged as urgent.

Munson affiliates in Kalkaska or Frankfort, whose X-rays were formerly taken by mobile units and delivered by courier service to Traverse City, might wait days for a radiologist's report. With thousands of X-rays taken per year, the old film and filing systems couldn't keep pace.

"Today, our job is almost done when we see the digital image and dictate our report," Kennell said. "Staff can view our typed report on line before we sign it, and they can email or fax it to Emergency. Turnaround times are well under a half hour. Some are 10 minutes from imaging to interpretation and another 10 minutes for a typed report. Electronically, we can flag files, read them and expedite them."

With radiologists specializing in one of 19 areas, such as nuclear medicine, mammography and M.R., (magnetic resonance imaging), Kennell said it's extremely helpful to be able to look at a digital image while talking on the phone to radiologists in other specialties who are also looking at the image, often while the patient is in the middle of an exam.

"It's almost like I'm there," Kennell said. Besides the obvious advantage of saving travel time, "we can shop around to get three or four people's opinions and frequently do."

Patients and their physicians can also view images together in the doctor's office, and patients can easily take copies of their images with them on a CD. BN