Hi-tech Med | SierraSun.com

Hi-tech Med

Sierra Countis
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra Sun Cheryl Whittemore, co-founder of Briner Imaging Center, shows a new digital mammography machine at the Briner Imaging Center Monday morning. Digital mammograms have a high resolution to better detect cancer.

Once a upon a not-so-distant time, a Tahoe Forest Hospital patient with a snowboard-induced knee injury would have been wheeled across the hospital’s parking lot through snow to get to the temporary trailer that housed the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine.

Now, however, the new addition of the Briner Imaging Center to the hospital solves that dilemma, bringing up-to-date technology to Truckee, according to Jonas Martin, the hospital’s MRI coordinator.

The Briner Imaging Center is part of the hospital’s new western addition, providing digital mammography and ultrasound technology, bone density screening and a new $1.5 million MRI facility.

“People don’t expect a rural hospital to have this level of state-of-the-art care,” said Paige Nebeker, the hospital’s director of marketing and media relations.

The Briner Imaging Center opened its doors to patients on Sept. 11, Nebeker said. With new equipment still being installed, the MRI facility will open within the next month.

MRI scans use radio frequency signals and strong magnetic fields to acquire images. The MRI room’s walls are lined in copper in order to keep out interfering frequency waves, Martin said.

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The MRI machine can be used for medical purposes such as sports injuries, brain scans, or soft tissue exams of nerves and organs. Compared to other types of X-ray exams, MRI images provide better contrast resolution for physicians to easily see the difference between tissues.

There’s an iPod stereo system set up for patients, who must lie perfectly still in a horizontal tube as the MRI takes a scan, Martin said. An MRI scan may take from 15 minutes to up to an hour, he said.

“We tried to create an environment,” Martin said about easing a patient’s anxiety. “It is what it is.”

When the facility is up and running, there will be no need for patients to drive to hospitals in Reno for MRI exams, Martin said. He said the hospital does approximately 10 MRI scans a day, with a flexible schedule as needed. The facility will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The new, 43,000-square-foot wing includes an intensive care unit, a medical surgical unit, an MRI facility and a lab. Funding the $36.6 million hospital addition came from a capital campaign, revenue bonds, and operations revenue.

The Briner Center also has advanced local breast examination to state-of-the-art. The center’s digital mammography imaging provides high-tech quality compared to analogue images, which were used prior to the recent upgrade.

Digital photography is the latest and greatest because of the camera’s sensitivity to detail and the ability to zoom in on an image for a closer examination, said Cheryl Whittemore, the hospital’s co-director of diagnostic imaging.

“We can manipulate those images and send them to the radiologist immediately,” Whittemore said.

The mammogram procedure, however, remains the same, and “you still get squished,” Nebeker added. A mammography technician still must photograph several different views of the breast tissue to exact an accurate image.

Physicians can now access a computer picture archive communication system (PACS) to examine a patient’s two-year mammogram history. The analogue film is transferred into digital mammogram images, which are easier for physicians in detecting any differences from one exam to the next, Nebeker said.

Whittemore said the center has had a number of women specifically searching for hospitals offering digital mammography.

An ultrasound machine especially for breast, abdomen, and pelvic exams can be used in conjunction with mammograms. Before the Briner Imaging Center was built, patients would have to cross the street to have an ultrasound done at another location, Whittemore said.

Briner Imaging Center has an x-ray machine to check for osteoporosis by taking photographs of a patient’s spine and lower hips, Whittemore said. She said the machine is also used to conduct a body fat analysis.