Filmless imaging center opens in Florida

March 1, 2000

Florida, home of Epcot and NASA, is about to launch the largest filmless imaging center in the U.S. While other facilities may process more images annually, the Pensacola imaging center, a new 36,000-square-foot freestanding edifice, ranks as the largest

Florida, home of Epcot and NASA, is about to launch the largest filmless imaging center in the U.S. While other facilities may process more images annually, the Pensacola imaging center, a new 36,000-square-foot freestanding edifice, ranks as the largest in physical size. The $15.5 million showcase is scheduled to open March 7.

“Other than mammography, we’re totally filmless,” said Mike Calvin, associate administrator of imaging services for the center, part of the Medical Center Clinic, the second largest medical group in Florida (the Jacksonville Mayo Clinic is the state’s largest). “We expect to run between 120,000 and 150,000 exams a year.”

Built from scratch, the site is brimming with state-of-the-art technology from Agfa and Toshiba. Agfa is supplying the PACS, while Toshiba is supplying all modality equipment, including an Aquilion CT scanner that reduces exam time by 50% to 90%, increasing patient comfort by decreasing or eliminating breath holds.

The center also features two MRI suites:

• An open Opart MRI, the first superconducting, cryogenless system on the market, allows patient access from all four sides, reducing claustrophobic- and pediatric-patient anxiety. The unit also accommodates those who exceed the weight limit of most MRI scanners.

• An Excelart high-field machine that reduces by 90% the loud scanning noise that troubles many patients.

The center’s 11 radiologists share seven diagnostic workstations. There are also workstations in neurology and orthopedic surgery.

The new facility, which serves much of the Florida panhandle, southern Alabama, and some of southern Georgia, joins a select group of all-digital imaging enterprises operating around the world. (Because of the relative scarcity of digital mammography, no radiologic facility can be considered 100% digital.)

“If you define ‘filmless’ as more than 90% filmless, I’d guess there are fewer than 15 sites in the U.S. currently and less than 30 in the world,” said Dr. Eliot Siegel, chief of radiology at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore, the country’s first all-digital installation.

There’s no question, however, that PACS and digital imaging are here to stay.

“I predict that half of the sites in the U.S. will be more than 80% filmless by the year 2014—but of course this is a wild guess,” Siegel said.

The federal government, with its deep pockets and an interest in the future of healthcare, has already committed the radiologic future of its Veterans Affairs’ and military hospitals to PACS.

Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC, for instance, pushes about 1500 digital images every day through its PACS. Despite a series of delays in the Department of Defense’s $500 million digital radiology initiative, one Navy official predicts that within six years, as many as 600 military healthcare facilities will be using PACS to digitally route and archive radiology images.

Capt. Jerry Thomas, chief of radiology physics at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD, believes the initiative is moving forward in a “smooth and predictable fashion” and that 2006 is not an unrealistic goal.