It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words; when it comes to the deployment of advanced visualization technology in cardiology, an image may be worth even more in referrals, according to practices that have adopted it.
“The whole world has been changed by the advent of ultrafast, multidetector cardiac CT,” said Robert S. Schwartz, MD, FACC, a cardiologist with the Minneapolis Heart Institute in Minneapolis. “It gives us extremely rapid three-dimensional images, which allows us to capture the entire beating heart.”
The downside to this achievement is that massive amounts of data are generated to deliver the 3D data sets from today’s multi-slice CT systems, Schwartz noted.
“One needs to be able to handle those massive amounts of data in a very efficient and facile way to make a diagnosis,” he observed
The adoption of advanced visualization tools provided his practice the capability to look at 3D representations through time, essentially delivering a 4D image: three dimensions in space, one dimension in time.
“This gives us the capability of looking at all structures of the heart, completely and accurately,” he said.
The implementation of advanced visualization at the Minneapolis Heart Institute was driven by an uptick in coronary CT angiography (CCTA) studies.
“Our CCTA service line really started to take off once we got high-speed multi-detector CT systems,” Schwartz noted. “We simply could not handle the huge amount of interpretative data being put out by these systems in an efficient manner. The workload we would have had by not having advanced visualization technology in place would have been simply staggering.”
Prior to the deployment of advanced visualization tools in the practice, the interpretation time for a CCTA procedure was anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes per exam.
“Since we’ve deployed our advanced visualization system, our read time has dropped down to 3 or 4 minutes for the more straightforward exams. More complex exams, of course, take a little longer,” he said.
An additional benefit of the technology has been the ability of the cardiologists to consult more efficiently and effectively with their referring clinician base.
“Because of the efficiency of the software, we’re able to be doing something else, put it aside, and pull up a 3D image and review it with a clinical colleague in a very short space of time; we’re quickly able to demonstrate the exact results of an exam,” Schwartz said.
Referrals to the practice have also increased since the addition of advanced visualization tools.
“We’re seeing more referrals since we adopted the technology; we’re able to send the reconstructions over the network or burn a CD that a referrer can take with them,” Schwartz said. “Many times, it’s the patients who want a CD of their 3D images—and we’re happy to help them out with that because it’s good for patients to understand their disease. It has a positive impact because patients can see their disease; so they’re much more likely to loose weight, to exercise, to do all those things that they’re supposed to do.”
From Schwartz’s perspective advanced visualization represents a disruptive technology for cardiology practices; as it has the capability to positively impact workflow, diagnosis, treatment and outcomes.
“It’s definitely a necessity, the sooner you get into it, the sooner you become good at it and it markedly advances your ability to take care of patients,” he said.
Michael Ridner, MD, a cardiologist at the Heart Center in Huntsville, Ala., and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Alabama School of medicine in that city, has also found the addition of advanced visualization technology to be a boon to his practice’s capabilities.
“What it has allowed to provide is network-wide visualization of cardiac CT angiograms, at any site, in any location,” he said. “This permits the cardiologists in our practice to work on these exams anywhere, including at home. In addition, we’re able to share our 3D reconstructions in our consultations with our referring physicians, as well as with the patients.”
He also has noted a change behavior as a result of sharing 3D images with patients.
“The technology allows us to provide patients with a very compelling image of their diagnosis,” Ridner said. “By showing them an image of their arteries, we are able to convincingly demonstrate why they should follow the therapeutic