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December 09, 2010
Massachusetts General Hospital is using HPC technology to perform colonoscopies that are less expensive, less invasive, and safer than those using traditional methods. In a nutshell, the application allows doctors to do a virtual colonoscopy, allowing patients to skip the unpleasant colon cleansing preparation using laxatives and subsequent insertion of the miniature camera under sedation.
In this case, the patient need only swallow a small amount of contrasting agent and then undergo a CT scan. A software imaging tool from a company called VectorForm is able to detect pre-cancerous polyps or actual malignancies even in the midst of all the fecal matter. The whole computing solution is built using Microsoft's HPC platform running Windows 7, Microsoft's .Net 4.0, Intel's Parallel Studio 2011 developer tool suite, and imaging tools from VectorForm.
Until recently such image processing required 30 to 60 minutes. The Mass General team was able to slice that to 3 minutes, and in the future they think they can get it down to just 20 seconds. The reduced time makes it possible to do a diagnosis while the patient is on the CT table.
According to Hiro Yoshida, director of 3D imaging research in the radiology department at Massachusetts General Hospital, the cost of the virtual procedure is $300 to $800. Not bad when you consider a conventional procedure costs between $2000 and $3000.
Slam dunk, right? Not quite. This is the American health care system after all. From the article:
[D]espite the cost disparities, you might be surprised that many payers -- including large ones like Medicare, typically don't cover virtual colonoscopies, said Yoshida. That's likely because virtual colonoscopy patients who are found to have polyps or other suspicious lesions must undergo a second procedure for final diagnosis and treatment -- the traditional colonoscopy.
Still, the majority of screenings result in normal findings, and most patients don't need a second procedure, said Yoshida.
Regardless of that little roadblock, the laxative-free virtual colonoscopies are expected to be available to more of Mass General's patients next year.
Full story at InformationWeek
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