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Diagnostic Imaging speeds access to care for accident victim

Brendan Seaton, an Ontario man who broke his ankle during a motorcycle trip this summer, has high praise for the benefits of the Northwest Territories' Diagnostic Imaging Picture Archiving and Communications System (DI/PACS).

Seaton had reached the Arctic Circle by motorcycle, a personal goal, and was on his way up the Dempster Highway to Inuvik when he hit a patch of deep soft gravel. "I lost control of the bike and went down, breaking my ankle in the process."

Fortunately, he had a satellite phone with him and was able to contact the RCMP, using his GPS system to give them his location. They dispatched an ambulance and a cruiser. He was transported to the Inuvik Regional Hospital where, "they X-rayed my leg and using the new PACS system installed last year, sent the images to the orthopedic surgeon in Yellowknife. I got to see the technology and how health professionals use it in real time," Seaton said. "They decided the break was bad enough to medevac me to Yellowknife. At Stanton Territorial Hospital I received first-class care from doctors and nurses who were skilled, professional and had a good sense of humour."

The NWT DI/PACS implementation, which began in 2009, was funded by Canada Health Infoway and the Government of the Northwest Territories. It links hospitals and health centres across the NWT. By the end of 2010, DI/PACS will be available to all NWT facilities that provide DI services.

Dr. Leah Seaman, who attended Seaton when he arrived in Inuvik, says the system has made physicians' lives easier when it comes to orthopaedic injuries. She said that, as an example, when treating Seaton, "talking to ortho in ‘real time' before and after we backslabbed (put a half cast on) him, was hugely helpful." She also cited the case of an older man who had a spinal injury that was difficult to diagnose because of an arthritic condition. The radiologist in Stanton looked at the images and determined the man needed a computerized tomography (CT) scan which, she said, "so greatly helped our decision-making here."

Dr. Derek Younge, the orthopaedic surgeon who operated on Seaton in Yellowknife, is a proponent of the DI/PACS system.

"It's a big advancement. We can see an image as soon as it is taken and consult directly with the health centre where the patient has been taken. We can manipulate the scan in ways we couldn't do with a traditional X-ray. We can give an opinion even before an official radiology report goes out." Dr. Younge said the system is particularly useful in diagnosing fractures and deciding on treatment. "We can see right away if the patient needs just a cast or an operation and that aids in decisions about whether to medevac a patient - a costly process - about $15,000. If we decide they should be sent down to us, we've already seen their scans and know what to expect when they arrive. We can prep the operating room and be ready when the patient arrives."

For Brendan Seaton, the experience has given him a new insight into the benefits of health care technology. "Okay. I crashed my bike. I broke my ankle, but I made it to the Arctic Circle and had my faith in the Canadian health care system restored. For 10 seconds, everything went terribly wrong. Then for the next five days, everything went very right. For the first time in years I can again say ‘I'm a believer'."

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