As we begin autumn many changing attributes begin to emerge including cooler air temperature in the day and night. Color changes in the trees and foliage bring out a vibrancy that awes all who take in nature’s beauty. This season of the year also kicks off the American tradition of football. Another important segment of the fall season shifts focus to health care issues as the months of September and October bring awareness to childhood cancer and breast cancer, respectively.
The battle that continues to be waged against all forms of cancer has seen significant advances over the past 50-plus years. Early detection of the disease has been a major factor in allowing treatment advances to truly be effective in providing the best possible quality of life to patients and their supportive families.
This edition of Bridging the Gap will address two crucial clinical equipment areas – mammography and radiation therapy. Each of these are of vital importance in the battle against these chronic diseases. Mammography’s specialized medical imaging equipment uses low-dose X-rays to see inside the breasts and has continued to advance technologically with digital mammography, computer-aided detection and breast tomosynthesis. Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. X-rays, gamma rays, and charged particles are types of radiation used for cancer treatment. The radiation may be delivered by external-beam radiation therapy equipment such as linear accelerators, or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells utilizing internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy.
For this column, I spoke with Director of Radiation Oncology and Women’s Health Leslie Adams and Imaging/Radiation Oncology Engineer Josh Elwell.
The sensitivity of the patient care environment and its urgency in the mammography and radiation oncology departments are typically held at the highest level and regard in all health care organizations. It is this expectation and commitment to patient care accuracy and timeliness to diagnosis along with prescribed treatments that enable the best outcomes for the patient. When Adams and Elwell were asked to share their thoughts regarding this statement, they endorsed it and each pointed directly to the importance of “maximized uptime.” In short, this cancer detecting and treatment equipment must always be performing as intended without exception.
Adams shared a business insight, that being as health care organizations continue to be challenged financially in regards to reimbursement of patient billed services, the clinical areas of mammography and radiation oncology from a billing perspective drive both strong top and bottom lines. When coupling together the business value proposition and, most importantly, the high level of patient delivery expectation, the need for effective and efficient equipment service and maintenance plans have little to no margin for error! The low availability of technically skilled mammography engineers and linear accelerator engineers limits the options of varying service and maintenance models other than depending on the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or a qualified independent service organization (ISO). Elwell described the technical skill challenge and workforce availability dilemma as ongoing. It is an industry challenge that continues to be a high hurdle in designing effective alternative service and maintenance versus OEM direct modeling.
One of the many gaps in these clinical screening/diagnosis and treatment areas revolves around a continued technological servicing workforce hurdle and is tightly linked to the highest expectation to timely and accurate equipment service performance as well as clinical availability to patients. The health care community, as it continues the battle in eradicating cancer, needs everyone’s continued effort and help. Let’s work together to clear all hurdles as we race to a cure!