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Medical Center Uses Analytics To Reduce Radiation

The University of Washington Medical Center uses an analytics tool to minimize patients' exposure to radiation during routine procedures and improve overall efficiency.
Healthcare Social Networks: New Choices For Doctors, Patients
Healthcare Social Networks: New Choices For Doctors, Patients
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The University of Washington Medical Center is using a centralized database and sensors to dramatically reduce patients' exposure to radiation -- an advantage the hospital touts to differentiate itself from other local providers.

Eventually, however, the medical Ccnter hopes to lose this much-touted edge, Dr. William Shuman, vice chairman and medical director, told us.

"To be perfectly honest, our mission is not to beat the competition. Our mission is to design a better healthcare delivery system to the future and lead there by example," he said. "We are doing it with the full expectation that the community will follow. It's a differentiator now, but it's my goal to make that differentiator go away."

[Nuance brings the power of the cloud to radiology. Read Nuance Adds Radiology Image Sharing To Healthcare Cloud.]

Currently, patients can be exposed to radiation through a variety of procedures at clinics and hospitals. Even within the University of Washington Medical Center, physicians had no way to track patients' accumulative exposure, because the facility used disparate systems and a hodgepodge of 14 siloed, disconnected databases -- some searchable, others not. Still others required the use of a data scientist in IT, which meant a query could take weeks or even months to complete, Shuman said. "We didn't want to wait six months and make a retrospective analysis. We wanted to know pretty quickly."

Radiation's effect on the human body gets a lot of discussion in both general and health media. Experts' opinions on risk vary, but the university wanted to reduce exposure. Patients want access to their records, including radiation dosages, Shuman said, and they expect personalized treatment.

"There's a great drive to lowering the radiation dose as much as we reasonably can," he said. "Our commitment as a healthcare delivery system to patients is, first and foremost, [that] we will create a safe environment for them."

To do this, the medical center had to know how much radiation each device delivered, and it needed a better way to store and search data. The organization found a solution for both in GE DoseWatch, which provides a vendor-agnostic approach that integrates sensors for multiple vendors' radiation-emitting devices and a user-friendly database for analytics and queries.

"It has a tremendous search program associated with it, so it's not merely a tool for accumulation of data but also a tool for analysis of data," Shuman said.

Today, the medical center has hardwired sensors to 54 machines and plans to expand to more than 90 within the facility, all connected to one server and database. Within about 18 months, Shuman foresees using GE DoseWatch across the University of Washington community -- including every site that uses any type of radiation-emitting test. Patients access personalized data via their electronic health records, so they instantly know how much radiation they've been exposed to across the health plan.

In addition to knowing patients' radiation dosage, he said, the university uses this insight to dramatically reduce exposure. Using analytics, healthcare professionals can determine the minimum dosage necessary to conduct CT and other scans. Checks within the diagnostic machines and DoseWatch prevent radiologists or technicians from mistakenly using excessive levels. The medical center now uniformly gives patients younger than 40 a CT scan with a radiation dose that's 60% lower than traditional systems -- with equally good results, according to Shuman.

"The data validates what we're doing when we're doing it well, as well as detects problems when we're not doing well," he said. "For example, we instituted routine dual-energy CT scanning of the liver two months ago. After we'd done 30 patients, I want to know, for the first 30 patients, did we use more radiation dose for dual-energy scanning than we've done historically for single scanning of the liver. I got results in 20 seconds. We were about 5% lower than our dose for single energy CT, so I was very happy we were getting more diagnostic information with more information."

Agnes Berzsenyi, general manager for dose and education services at GE Healthcare, told InformationWeek that patients want information about radiation dosage. Providing healthcare professionals with analytics tools frees up IT departments and allows medical organizations to discover new ways to reduce patient exposure, she said.

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