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Hospital seeks approval for scanner
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Forsyth County News

Northside Hospital-Forsyth must wait at least another two months to learn whether it will receive approval for its first mobile PET/CT scanner.

The unit is a necessary tool that "helps the physician diagnose and stage the cancer," said Russ Davis, hospital spokesman. "It also helps give a good image to help the physician map out the best course of treatment for the cancer the patient has."

The certificate of need for the Positron Emission Tomography/Computed Tomography scanners was filed in mid-July with the Georgia Department of Community Health and deemed complete two weeks later.

If approved, a mobile PET/CT unit will be placed on the hospital's Forsyth campus. After infrastructure improvements, it could open as soon as spring 2009.

But it may not be that simple, particularly given the hospital's past luck with the complex certificate of need process.

In an effort to avoid duplication of expensive services and evenly distribute medical care across Georgia, state health planners weigh whether there is a legitimate need for the proposed service. If so, they then determine if the health system making the application is best suited to fill that need.

Other medical facilities can challenge the application, thereby lengthening the process.

Both the recently opened women's center and the radiation therapy center were challenged during the certificate of need process, though Davis hopes the same won't happen with the PET/CT scanners.

The PET/CT would be the first in Forsyth and the only one in a 20-mile radius, he said. In 2007, about 350 Forsyth campus patients had to seek service at the hospital's main campus in Atlanta.

Once the PET/CT is up and running, Davis said he expects the hospital to run about nearly 570 scans annually by 2013.

Northside Hospital has two other certificate of need applications out for the PET/CT scanners. Though the main campus in Atlanta has one, the unit is mobile.

Due to daily use, Davis said a fixed unit would be more economical. The other two certificates are for the Forsyth and Cherokee campuses to receive mobile units.

Unlike the fixed units, which are bought and built as part of a hospital, the mobile units are about the size of a tractor-trailer and the equipment would be on a contract service.

Because the population of residents over age 65 is rising, Davis said there is a strong need for the equipment in Forsyth.

"That aged population in Forsyth County is expected to increase 57.5 percent between 2008 and 2013," he said. "There would be a significant increase in the need for that type of service."

The hospital would have to make several adjustments to accommodate the equipment, including the addition of an awning and extra concrete, Davis said.

In total, the application lists about $343,600 in related improvements.

The PET/CT equipment is part of the hospital's effort to increase its service to cancer patients.

"I think it's important for the increasingly growing population of that area, and we want to make sure that we provide at Northside-Forsyth all the health care needs of the community, and cancer care, of course, is one of them," he said.

"Once they're diagnosed, cancer patients have to make frequent visits for treatment. And there's just no need, if we can help it, for them to have to travel too far."