- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

BALTIMORE — A digital X-ray system once used to search South African miners for stolen diamonds will now allow Baltimore trauma doctors to scan a patient’s entire body in 13 seconds.

A clear image pops up 10 seconds later on a computer screen, allowing quick access to information at a time when diagnosing a patient’s injuries is most crucial. Conventional full-body X-ray series currently take between 20 minutes and 45 minutes to develop.

The University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center will start using the Statscan imaging system next week, the first hospital outside of South Africa to do so, officials said this week.

“I’ve been waiting my whole career for something like this to come along,” said Dr. Stuart Mirvis, Shock Trauma’s radiology director. “The speed and image quality of this system is astounding. … This will save lives.”

Besides faster and clearer images, the machine also exposes patients to 75 percent less radiation than a conventional full-body X-ray, Dr. Mirvis said.

Dr. Mirvis said the system is an improvement on Direct Digital Radiography, which has been sold to hospitals for about two years. DDR captures an image of one part of the body and displays it on a computer screen just as quickly as Statscan, but it isn’t able to scan an entire body, he said.

“The new thing here is that this system is moving over the whole body in one shot,” Dr. Mirvis said. “It’s combining a new twist to technology that’s already out there, but it’s still a pretty big leap.”

When a patient comes into a trauma emergency room, doctors traditionally take a time-consuming X-ray of the part of the body with the most obvious injury; more time is taken for X-rays of other body parts.

Statscan’s head-to-toe imaging allows doctors to detect injuries that aren’t immediately apparent — letting them trace a bullet’s trajectory, for example, without having to piece together several X-rays and without repeatedly moving an injured patient.

After the machine’s C-shaped arm passes over a patient during the initial 13-second scan, doctors can zoom in on smaller areas for a closer look.

“Where a diagnosis might have taken us 30 minutes before, we’ll now be able to do it in a matter of seconds, providing faster, better and more sophisticated medical care,” said Dr. Thomas Scalea, Shock Trauma’s chief physician. “It’s very exciting technology.”

Several South African hospitals currently use the system, which the Food and Drug Administration cleared for sale in America in October 2002.

“This is Space Age stuff,” said Herman Potgieter, who invented the machine in the late 1980s for South African mine owners trying to fight widespread diamond theft by their workers. He developed the system as a safe, fast way to search workers finishing their shifts for hidden or swallowed diamonds.

Mr. Potgieter said the lightweight, compact technology is also well-suited for use in mobile military hospitals and aircraft carriers.

The company that makes the system, Lodox Systems, plans to have 20 more machines in American hospitals by next year. Lodox President Bill Greenway said the Creighton Medical Center in Omaha, Neb., also has ordered a machine, which costs about $400,000. Mr. Greenway said the machine is expected to save hospitals money because X-ray film processing isn’t required and the speedier machine saves time.

Dr. Mirvis said Shock Trauma will perform tests to compare the machine with “tried and true, traditional X-ray technology.”

Shock Trauma doctors will scan patients with minor injuries, beginning next week, and those with more serious injuries next month, he said.

Dr. Barak Friedman, a fellow in abdominal imaging at New York University, said he’d never heard of an X-ray system like Statscan.

“It sounds like it would be helpful in high-speed motor vehicle accidents,” Dr. Friedman said. “You put them in for 13 seconds and find out where the injuries and broken bones are.”

Dean Chapman, an Illinois Institute of Technology physicist specializing in X-ray imaging, said the system’s appeal was its ability to scan the whole body without a high dose of radiation.

“People, in general, are reluctant to use X-rays to just routinely scan patients,” Mr. Chapman said. “If the radiation doses are low, and you don’t understand everything that’s happening to a person, it looks like this could be used as a triage to find out what’s going on, and quickly.”

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