How Boosting Advanced Imaging Could Improve Rural Health in the US?

Wed, 18 September 2019 2:47

People living in rural America may deserve the same quality of healthcare as anyone living in the U.S., but it is not always available right there.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the rural side is home to about 60 million Americans, about 19 percent of the U.S. population but many travels 50, 60 or more miles to urban health care facilities to get specialty care or even a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance (MR) exam.

One-third of U.S. emergency departments may not have access to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), according to the American College of Radiology.

The Inconvenience Issue

To travel long distances creates healthcare disparities. In some Wisconsin counties, the National Rural Health Association (RHI) may send healthcare workers to some homes to measure residents’ weight and body mass index, blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol. This sensitizing along with telehealth, whereby remote patients may visit physicians digitally can help meet some challenges of rural healthcare.

However, to get required health information, access to radiography, ultrasound, CT, and MRI may be needed, particularly in emergencies, which often occur in rural America. Farmers often don't turn to physicians unless there is an emergency, and rural children are especially prone to firearm injuries and poisoning.

Providing a universal room that can do DR and fluoro with a high degree of uptime and a reduced footprint can be a real benefit for facilities such as rural community hospitals. Similarly, offering modalities such as MRI and CT makes sense for these facilities.

Shortfalls in Rural America

Advanced imaging capabilities are scarce in rural America. However, some emergencies like the one at West Feliciana Parish Hospital do feature them. This rural health center consists of 12 inpatient beds and an emergency room also has access to a 128-slice computed tomography (CT) scanner. According to data published in 2014, CT was noted to be present in just slightly more than half (56%) of all critical access hospitals (CAHs) in each of the nation’s states.

The ACR Journal notes that about 60 million of the 320 million people living in the U.S. receive health care at critical access hospitals.

The voluntary CAH status, which grants reimbursement advantages, is tough to accomplish. It requires the hospitals to have no more than 25 acute care inpatient beds, offers emergency service all day and all year long. It can also provide patient stays equal to or less than 96 hours. Generally, these hospitals are 35 miles or more away from other hospitals, mainly in rural communities.

Versatility is the Need of the Hour

Vendors are now devising versatility into the field of medical imaging. Agfa’s DR800 supports both radiography and fluoroscopy in a single room. The DR800 can generate skeletal radiographs as well as those of the thorax and abdomen and can perform fluoro exams, such as barium studies, arthrograms, myelography, and catheter placement.

Likewise, a Hitachi ultrasound system may support different capabilities, based on its configuration. When the ARIETTA 70 is equipped with different transducers, general radiology, urology, cardiology, even surgery support are possible. When connected with the SOFIA table, the platform can perform 3-D breast ultrasound to image dense breasts, which may hide cancers.

Affordable Service

The toughest task for rural facilities is to make imaging equipment affordable. To address this problem, Hitachi has developed financial options for rural customers. They balance capital as well as operating expenses and also manage the economic factors for the rural customer.

Another issue with rural facilities is staff training, particularly when adding an unfamiliar modality or radically boosting performance. It can bring a huge change, for example, replacing a CT scanner that delivers 16 slices per rotation with one that delivers 64 or 128 makes a significant difference. Such clinical experiments can unleash fresh sources of revenue. However, for long-term success, their development must be thoughtfully planned.