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Hospital ship brings teleradiology to tsunami zone

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A U.S. Navy hospital ship with a state-of-the-art teleradiology system arrived off Indonesia’s Aceh province last week to help with post-tsunami humanitarian aid efforts.

A U.S. Navy hospital ship with a state-of-the-art teleradiology system arrived off Indonesia's Aceh province last week to help with post-tsunami humanitarian aid efforts.

The radiology operation on the USNS Mercy is a capable platform, offering full imaging services with the exception of MR and nuclear medicine. The onboard radiology department is filmless with full PACS capability.

The Mercy has a 16-slice CT scanner capable of performing angiography and multiplanar reformatting, as well as fluoroscopy for image-guided procedures such as biopsies and drainages. The Mercy and its sister ship Comfort are the only Navy ships equipped with CT scanners.

The ship carries four general-purpose computed radiography suites, two of which have full digital fluoroscopic towers. There are also six portable x-ray units.

"All modalities are fully digital with a complete Agfa PACS system on board," said Dr. Stephen Ferrara, LCDR, chief of Mercy's radiology department. "The Web-based browser is used throughout the ship for clinicians to view their films."

When necessary, images can be transmitted from ship to shore for consultation with another medical center or transmitted ship to ship for fleet support.

Ferrara said reports are available immediately on a digital dictation listen line system. They are transcribed the same day into the Defense Department's standard composite healthcare system (CHCS) where they can be read or printed onto hard copy.

Mercy's medical information systems mirror those at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, including hundreds of onboard terminals running CHCS.

Primary communications from the Mercy occur via a DOD Challenge Athena satellite link, which has a raw throughput of 1.54 Mb/sec, and two commercial satellite systems, which allow the Mercy to function as another node on the medical center's network.

The Mercy has 12 operating suites, 80 ICU beds, and 1000 other beds. It relieved the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, which has been operating off of Sumatra since early January. The Navy said the arrival of the Mercy will change the look of the Navy's tsunami assistance operations, with more of an emphasis on civil rather than purely military assistance.

It took the 894-foot ship about 30 days to reach the Indian Ocean region, with stops in Honolulu and Singapore. Over 100 civilian healthcare workers from nongovernmental organizations, including Project Hope and the World Health Organization, boarded Mercy during the Singapore port call.

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