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Patients receiving cancer scan results faster thanks to innovative technology

Pictured: Dr Changez Jadun, Clinical Director for Imaging

Patients at UHNM are finding out more quickly if they have bowel cancer, thanks to the use of innovative technology at the Trust. The Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS), made by Sectra, provides healthcare professionals with much faster access to imaging necessary for making important diagnoses. It means that treatment can begin sooner for patients who do have cancer and that relief comes more quickly for patients who don’t.

UHNM’s imaging department is one of the busiest in the country and sees more than 9,500 patients a week – capturing and reporting on a wide range of medical imaging, from simple x-rays to more complex CT and MRI scans. PACS is now enabling radiologists to cope with a 10 per cent year-on-year rise in demand.

Dr Ingrid Britton, consultant gastrointestinal radiologist, said: “Before we had PACS, the radiographer would perform the scan, and then place imaging in a queue to be reported on by a radiologist, then the report would be sent to a multidisciplinary team. But now we can identify patients with colorectal cancer even while they are still on the scanner. When radiographers see something during the scan, they alert the imaging team immediately, and using a simultaneous viewing feature in PACS, we can look at the imaging, irrespective of  the patient’s location and can report as the image is generated, notifying the referring clinician the same day when a patient is positive. It’s a very rapid way of escalating thing, which ensures patients are on the right treatment path straight away.

“If a patient knows their results straight away, they can have faith in the care we are providing. Getting the correct information promptly right from the beginning gives patients confidence. It’s equally important for someone to know that they don’t have cancer as quickly as possible. If we know, at the point of reporting, that someone doesn’t have cancer, we can now issue a standard letter from the colorectal cancer team directly to the patient which tells them so. We are now discharging patients from scan to report in around 16 days – meaning they know they don’t have cancer days or even weeks earlier. This helps put people’s minds at ease, and saves time elsewhere in the service as the patient doesn’t need to chase their GP. We can deliver this service across Royal Stoke and County Hospital, irrespective of the location of the patient, radiographer and radiologist.”

Patients who show no signs of bowel cancer are also being notified and discharged weeks sooner in a new pilot project at the Trust – helping to avoid unnecessary anxiety for the patient. This now means that referring clinicians are being consistently notified on the same day as the patient’s CTC scan, also known as a virtual colonoscopy, if their patients test positive for bowel cancer.

The system is currently being piloted within the bowel cancer specialty, but is also being applied effectively in breast care and will be used within other specialties in the future.

Dr Changez Jadun, clinical director for Imaging, said: “PACS has made whole departmental working more coherent , with in-house and home reporting easier than ever before. There are functionalities which can be used for almost all specialities and the system is also making a big difference in the area of breast care. In time we hope the system will help with teaching tools for junior doctors, which will enable us to care for our patients better.”

Implementing PACS has improved working lives in many ways at UHNM and radiologists will have the ability to stay connected across multiple sites through the system. Whether an image is captured at the hospital in Stoke, in the community, or at UHNM’s County Hospital in Stafford, it can be quickly accessed and interrogated by professionals, regardless of their location. 

Chat functionality, which operates in a similar way to consumer instant messaging, is also allowing staff to access second opinions from colleagues who could be located miles away, very quickly, and radiologists are saving time in preparation for MDT meetings, adding in reports and images to lists within a few clicks.

Jane Rendall, managing director for UK and Ireland at Sectra, said: “Ingenuity demonstrated by healthcare professionals at University Hospitals of North Midlands is what technology in the NHS should be about. It’s not about IT. It’s about how people can use it to deliver better patient care, and a better patient experience. I hope other hospitals can replicate this success to spread the same benefits to many more patients.”