Drive for hi-tech diagnostics

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 October, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 October, 1993, 12:00am

A TEAM of international experts in radiology began a tour of Hong Kong and China yesterday, calling for more education on state-of-the-art diagnostic techniques.

The head of the team, Professor Alexander Margulis, said the region already had the most advanced diagnostic technology, but there was a need for more education on its use.

Speaking to the Hong Kong College of Radiologists last night, Professor Margulis said the most effective form of diagnosis was Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

He said the technology was available here and in China but not used to its potential because it was still relatively new.

There are six MRI units in Hong Kong. All are in private hospitals except for one at Queen Elizabeth. There are 90 units in China.

MRI technology gives doctors computer-generated views of internal organs and bones with no incision and at minimal or no risk to the patient. This gives surgeons vital information for planning treatment - allowing them to see precise details of damage before undertaking an operation.

It is more accurate, less painful and has fewer side effects than X-rays and does not expose patients to harmful radiation. It also means less time is spent in the operating theatre because surgeons can carry out the procedure more efficiently.

It has been available in Hong Kong for two years, but Professor Margulis said there was a need for more education on its use here.

MRI is the most expensive form of diagnostics, but Professor Margulis said that used correctly it could be cost-effective.

''It is not always necessary to use MRI, but if we teach doctors to detect when it is necessary then they won't have to go through the costly exercise of trying every other available technique first,'' he said.

He said it was the most effective way of detecting breast cancer in women between 40 and 50 years, and should therefore be used as the first-choice technique - especially in women with a family history of breast cancer.

He said that sometimes doctors prescribed an MRI when it was unnecessary, simply to make money. But this was unlikely in Hong Kong because of the small number of units.

''Unfortunately, in the US there are centres which are out to make money and doctors will send patients to MRI units at clinics which they have a financial interest in,'' he said. ''But this is unlikely here.'' There are now 3,000 MRI units in America, where the technique began in 1988. The waiting period for a public patient needing an MRI in Hong Kong is about three months, a spokesman for the Health Department said.

Professor Margulis said this was not too lengthy a wait, unless doctors wasted time by unsuccessfully using the other forms of diagnosis first. If doctors were unable to detect which was the best technique, it could take up to a year before a patient received an MRI.

Professor Margulis and four other doctors from the United States and Europe will conduct a similar tour in Moscow next year.