Nuclear Medicine Gives Patients a New Look on Imaging

Mar 5, 2013

If an image is worth 1,000 words, the images Lyle Lowder produces through nuclear medicine tell a story.

While nuclear imaging might sound ominous, it's very safe explains Lowder, nuclear medicine technologist for Pullman Regional Hospital. It is also incredibly effective in giving medical professionals insight as to how the body is functioning.

Before you can fix a problem, you have to know where to start, says Lowder. Diagnostic imaging is the first step, and for patients experiencing chest pain, problems with brain, kidney, thyroid, and lung functioning, or for early detection of bone cancer, nuclear imaging is one of the best methods to get a clear picture of the problem.

Unlike traditional anatomical imaging like computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine exams show how the body functions abnormally when a disease or dysfunction is present.

During a typical nuclear medicine exam, Lowder gives a patient an injection of a radionuclide, or radiation in liquid form. He then uses a special imaging camera called a gamma camera to capture its route through the body. He looks for "hot spots" during a bone scan.

"For a cardiac exam we would expect the radionuclide to go to all areas of the heart, equally. If there's an area on the images that has not perfused or completely distributed through the heart muscle we know there's something wrong with that specific part of the heart muscle," explains Lowder.

The amount of radiation used in a nuclear medicine exam is very small, and there are no measureable side effects, Lowder says. He jokingly tells comic book fans they won't be experiencing any Incredible Hulk side effects. "We even use radiation with a short half-life, meaning there's even less exposure to the patient."

While nuclear medicine is common in hospitals, Lowder's machine is equipped with a hybrid camera, allowing for nuclear medicine scans to be superimposed on a CT scan. "This image overlay tells the radiologist exactly where the problem is," says Lowder. "There's no guessing, which means a more accurate diagnosis for our patients and better care."

When Pullman Regional Hospital first started exploring the possibility of including nuclear medicine, Lowder said he jumped at the opportunity to get involved. With his previous experience in radiographic technology, the additional training and certification for nuclear imaging involved a two year program.

"Patients come to us in search of improving their quality of life. There is nothing better when I get to be part of that process, and help them achieve peace of mind through an accurate diagnosis," says Lowder.

In his 13 years at Pullman Regional Hospital, Lowder's passion for helping people is fulfilled by the community and his coworkers. "I love the atmosphere of this hospital; it's just a pleasant place to be. The people are easy to work with. There are amazing people in this hospital and in the community."

Words of thanks from grateful patients are a daily reminder of the opportunity to make a profound impact on the life of a patient. "The technology can be intimidating, and the circumstances far from ideal. The best thing that I can do is communicate and let them know what they can expect through each phase of the process," he explains.

In December 2012, the nuclear imaging department at Pullman Regional Hospital was awarded accreditation by the American College of Radiology. Lowder says this was a huge accomplishment for the hospital, and it speaks to the commitment to providing exceptional patient care.

For months, policies, processes, images, and protocols underwent a rigorous examination. The accreditation for nuclear imaging was not required, but was taken on voluntarily. "This really means trust," says Lowder. "It means that we care so much about what we do, we want to do the best we can for our patients. It means we're practicing great patient care, implementing radiation safety principles, and ensuring that our image quality is the best that we can make it."

Contact: Alison Weigley, Community Relations Coordinator
Pullman Regional Hospital
509-336-7408
alison.weigley@pullmanregional.org

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