Hospitals lack 'indispensable' X-ray system
Experts say digital technology would allow early diagnosis of diseases like Sars
The lack of equipment that allows X-ray images to be stored and viewed on computer systems could jeopardise efforts to deal with future Sars outbreaks.
Most public hospitals do not have the technology, which allows medical workers to view X-rays only seconds after they are taken, resulting in early treatment.
Maria Law Yuen-yee, radiotherapy professor from Polytechnic University, said Hong Kong was at least five years behind its overseas counterparts such as the United States, South Korea and Japan in using digital systems to deliver and store diagnostic images.
Using a system known as Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS), medical workers from different departments in a hospital can view the diagnostic images on their computers within seconds of radiographers screening their patients.
This allows doctors to diagnose illnesses early, which is particularly important in treating acute diseases such as Sars.
'More importantly, the film-less imaging system can effectively reduce the risk of infection as medical workers can read the images from their office instead of passing around the films, which may have been contaminated with viruses,' Dr Law said.
'During the Sars outbreak, some radiographers chose to read the chest X-ray films in acute wards to save time in passing the films around. They were putting themselves at a high risk of infection.'
Dr Law said more than half of hospitals in the US and nearly 90 per cent of hospitals in South Korea were using PACS.
She said extensive installation of the state-of-art technology, especially in acute hospitals, would be 'indispensable' if the government went ahead with its ambitious plan to build a Centre for Health Protection to prevent Sars and turn the city into Asian's medical hub.
Colleague Tang Fuk-hay said the technology could effectively replace the conventional practice of developing and delivering diagnostic films manually, which usually takes half a day.
According to the Hospital Authority, only five out of its 44 hospitals are installed with PACS. They are Duchess of Kent Children's Hospital, North District Hospital, Prince of Wales Hospital, Tseung Kwan O Hospital and Tuen Mun Hospital.
But Dr Tang said the use of PACS was limited in even those hospitals, except Tseung Kwan O Hospital, where the system served the whole hospital. At Prince of Wales Hospital, the system served only the Accident and Emergency Unit.
The installation of PACS is estimated to cost at least $20 million for a medium-sized hospital of less than 1,000 beds.
Rachael Chan Ka-wai, spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Radiographers' Association, said PACS was effective at reducing the risk of mistakes or film losses. 'There is a global trend towards the extensive use of digital diagnostic images,' she said.
'So the authority should keep pace with the rest of the world if it wants to maintain a high standard of medical services.'