Improving Access to Care in Portugal

Manuel Meyer|2018-04-17

Following the economic crisis, hospitals in Portugal continue to struggle with budget cuts and staff shortages. In spite of this, the radiology unit at São João University Hospital has managed to make high quality imaging affordable.

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Photos: João Pedro Marnoto

Carla Pinto goes toward the waiting room of the radiology unit Centro Hospitalar São João in Porto. The name of the next patient appears automatically on the X-ray technician’s tablet, which is networked with the CT scanner. There’s hardly a free seat left in the waiting room. The university hospital in the north of Portugal is one of the best-known medical establishments in the whole country. But in recent years that has become a problem. Portugal is recovering from the severe economic downturn only slowly. And its healthcare system still bears the scars left by the crisis and the government’s radical austerity measures.

The university hospital’s radiology unit has had to save money, too. Its scanning equipment was last renewed in 2005. There’s also a lack of radiologists, says Isabel Ramos, head of department. But patients don’t really notice this shortage. CT radiographer Carla Pinto explains why: “Our new scanner platform does image postprocessing with Recon&GO automatically. This gives me time to prepare for the next patient’s examination without having to rush.”

Fast image postprocessing with Recon&GO allows the physicists to scan more patients in less time.
Thanks to fast image postprocessing with Recon&GO, Carla Pinto can now scan more patients.

She says she gains a huge amount of time this way: “Postprocessing used to take me up to fifteen minutes. With the new system the workflows are much quicker, more automated, and straightforward. While I used to get through 12 examinations a day, now I can scan up to 50 patients,” says Pinto. Accelerated, more efficient workflows were precisely what the radiology unit was hoping for when it acquired the innovative SOMATOM go.Up CT scanner at the end of 2016. Isabel Ramos explains: “Our patient numbers are increasing by ten percent a year. Last year alone we did 370,000 examinations. With the old equipment and limited personnel, that was almost impossible to manage without a detrimental effect on the comfort of staff and patients.”

The new scanner platform has also enabled the radiology unit to boost quality in medical terms. “The diagnostic quality of the new CT scanner is fantastic,” says radiologist Rui Cunha. Another advantage: “The new platform saves us radiologists a huge amount of time. Because the automated scan protocol includes all scan areas as standard, we no longer have to explain to the technicians in advance precisely what images we’re going to need.” Radiologist Antonio Madureira adds: “With the new scanner’s Stellar detector, low tube voltages, and Tin Filters, we can work at very low doses and still get high-quality images. As well as boosting the medical quality and the safety of patients and staff, this saves us costs as we use less contrast medium.”

Carla Pinto emphasizes the completely new way of working that is made possible thanks to the new technology, saying that this benefits patients in particular. What impresses her most besides the innovative single room concept is the system’s tablet control. “I used to be permanently flitting between the scanner and control rooms. Now that I can carry the tablet with me to access scan functions, I move around much more freely and spend more time with the patient,” explains Pinto. She says this is particularly important with children and others who are anxious. “The fact that I’m right there with them is comforting for patients. They feel more at ease, which means they don’t move around as much and the images turn out better.”

Manuel Meyer reports from Spain and Portugal for the German medical newspaper ÄrzteZeitung.