Phil Sullivan

Cancer centers are finding value in dedicated portable CTs

September 06, 2016
By Phil Sullivan

It is well documented that cancer rates will rise in the coming years, with the U.S. baby boom generation entering retirement. People are not only living longer, but obesity is on the rise. Yet it’s also a time of financial transition for health care providers, as present fee-for-service reimbursement models transition to quality-and value-based care. One way cancer centers such as University of Wisconsin Carbone (Madison) and Willis-Knighton (Shreveport, Louisiana) are addressing these challenges is by adopting dedicated, portable, full-body CT scanners as a way to improve their brachytherapy or proton therapy workflows.

These in-suite CTs help regional health systems, private hospitals and academic medical centers with radiation oncology departments deliver increased quality of care to patients. Unlike conventional fixed CT scanners, portable CTs can be moved. They are often self-shielded, so they don’t need a dedicated room retrofitted with shielding in the walls. These 32-slice workhorses give physicians high-quality image data to confirm tumor size and location when performing proton therapy and to confirm correct applicator location when performing brachytherapy treatments.

Patients benefit
When the treatment suite has its own CT scanner, patients see several benefits, our clinician customers report anecdotally:

Patients don’t have to be moved to another part of the building to be scanned for either proton therapy or brachytherapy, saving time and, in some cases, reducing anesthesia.
With some portable scanners, they don’t have to be moved from one table to another, thus reducing the risk of brachytherapy applicators shifting out of place, and for both proton therapy and brachytherapy patients as well as staff, reducing the physical risks of moving patients.
Less time for treatment and less moving of patients equates to a more comfortable and efficient treatment experience.
Specific to brachytherapy, when applicators are out of place and need to be readjusted, in-suite scanners can give closer-to-real-time confirmation that they’ve been correctly repositioned. Patients undergoing cancer treatments have enough worries. Reducing treatment time and the amount of movement are quality- of-care improvements that help prevent adding more anxiety to the process.

Financial benefits in the new health economy
When a cancer center is justifying investment in a portable CT scanner, it needs to prove the economic benefits, especially with health care margins already reduced and payers tying quality metrics to reimbursement rates. Portable CT scanners for cancer treatment can boost a cancer center’s efficiency. Our customers enumerate the benefits in the following ways:

Brachytherapy and proton therapy treatment times can be cut, opening up capacity for the department.
No longer sharing the facility’s main CT scanner with other hospital departments, the cancer center frees up capacity for the main scanner.
Quicker treatments and less inconvenience and waiting can lead to patients giving a facility a more favorable Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, or HCAHPS, score. Insurers often tie reimbursement to ratings derived from these scores.
Since patients aren’t moved before scanning on a portable CT, the likelihood of brachytherapy applicator movement is reduced.
Remove the need for re-scanning when a patient has had his or her applicators moved when transferred from one table to another, further increasing capacity and workflow efficiencies.

Adding it all together
Brachytherapy is an exciting, but often complex, modality for treating cancer. Itsometimes involves patient discomfort, but removes the risks that come with surgery. According to the American Brachytherapy Society, the payoff is real in the long run — it can be an effective way to treat cancers, and patients often experience fewer side effects than with other treatment modalities. Proton therapy, another cutting-edge, cancer-fighting therapy, can target tumor tissue with a precision that just a few years ago would have been unimaginable with conventional photon, or X-ray, therapy. It also promises fewer side effects because it significantly reduces damage to healthy tissue and vital organs.

Dedicated portable CT scanners for the brachytherapy and proton therapy suites are a way to reduce discomfort while increasing efficiency, outcomes and patient satisfaction, which is why we’re seeing additional cancer centers implement them. That efficiency will be welcomed as more patients with cancer diagnoses will need treatment in future years.

About the author: Phil Sullivan is president and CEO of Samsung NeuroLogica.