In the fast-changing world of high-tech med, North Georgia healthcare providers offer SOPHISTICATED MEDICAL INNOVATIONS to save and extend lives.
written by AMBER LANIER NAGLE | EMORY JOHNS CREEK HOSPITAL; WELLSTAR KENNESTONE HOSPITAL
WHEN TECHNOLOGY AND HEALTHCARE COLLIDE, solutions are born; big breakthroughs in patient care and treatment are made; and state-of-the-art medical technologies that were once unthinkable emerge. Take the world of prosthetics, for example. Today’s prosthetics resemble real human limbs and are far more functional than yesteryear’s metal hooks and wooden legs. Myoelectric hands have movable fingers that grip and fl ex in response to electrical signals generated naturally by the patient’s own muscles. Once cumbersome and hard to manipulate, prosthetic legs are now light and agile, allowing users to return to their active lifestyles by getting around more smoothly, climbing stairs and riding bikes. T
hough you may not hear a lot about them, dozens of major medical discoveries and advances roll out each year — some are even classified as “game-changing.”
We asked a handful of healthcare professionals to tell us about up-and-coming medical procedures, technologies and devices in use in North Georgia that are significantly changing patient care and enabling our loved ones to live longer, healthier lives. Here are four wow-worthy medical innovations.
NEUROSURGERY WITHOUT INCISIONS
Despite its name, Gamma Knife Perfexion is not actually a knife at all. It is a medical device that delivers precisely focused high-dose beams of radiation to selected areas deep within the brain, without a scalpel and without the usual risks of surgery or an incision.Moreover, this type of radiosurgery is typically performed in a single outpatient treatment session and without the use of general anesthesia.
Northside Hospital-Forsyth Cancer Center added a Gamma Knife Perfexion unit last November, and since then, more than 60 patients have had the procedure.
“Overall, our patients have been pleased,” said Dr. Peter Possert, medical director of Northside’s Gamma Knife Program. “There are fewer side effects, one treatment and most patients go home the same day. Gamma Knife will benefit hundreds of patients requiring treatment of both benign and malignant brain lesions in the North Georgia and metro Atlanta area.”
Sometimes the tumor’s location or size prohibits the use of Gamma Knife, but for others, the device has offered new hope following a cancer diagnosis. “It’s a huge advancement,” he said. “A new and improved weapon we have to fight cancer.”
ALLOWING DOCTORS TO SEE AND REMOVE PLAQUE SIMULTANEOUSLY
According to the American Heart Association, about 8 million people in the U.S. live with peripheral artery disease (PAD), a serious condition caused by the narrowing of the arteries that carry blood to the arms and legs, resulting in leg pain and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
“In the past, we have had to rely solely on X-rays, as well as ‘touch and feel’ to guide our tools as we remove plaque from PAD patients,” said Emory Healthcare Cardiologist Gregory Robertson, M.D., associate professor of medicine, Emory University School of Medicine.
Robertson utilized the first Pantheris device in Georgia in March at Emory Johns Creek Hospital (EJCH). It uses real-time optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging on a therapeutic catheter — similar to a small camera on the tip of the device. “For the first time, Avinger’s Pantheris allows us to see from the inside of the artery during an atherectomy procedure, allowing for safer, more precise removal of the plaque,” Robertson said.
Pantheris may potentially reduce the need for follow-up procedures and stents. The radiationfree device could also help minimize radiation exposure to clinicians and patients.
AFFIRM 3D BIOPSY
A TOOL IN THE FIGHT AGAINST BREAST CANCER
As of April, EJCH also added a new tool to their breast-cancer-detection-and-treatment toolbox. Combining state-of-the-art imaging with high-precision biopsy capability, the Affirm 3D biopsy system allows medical practitioners to better target and sample breast lesions. Developed by Hologic, the new equipment uses the same technology for visualizing breast lesions as 3D digital tomosynthesis mammography, which has been shown to diagnose more breast cancers than traditional 2D mammography.
“We can see more with 3D,” said Maria Piraner, M.D., director of the Center for Breast Care at EJCH. “The Affirm 3D Biopsy system enables us to more accurately pinpoint tiny, curable lesions and biopsy them immediately.” The biopsy system provides true 360-degree access to lesions using a smart-arm design.
“3D mammography paired with the Affirm 3D biopsy will help us find cancers earlier so that we can treat them sooner rather than later, and that’s the key to successful treatment,” she said. “Also, it reduces call backs by 40 percent. That’s important, too.”
Emory University Hospital Midtown will get the technology this summer.
HIGHLY TARGETED THERAPY THAT SHORTENS CANCER TREATMENT TIME
The TomoTherapy platform combines the tumormapping function of a CT scan with precision, 360-degree radiation therapy to help treat patients with head, neck, advanced lung, prostate, pancreatic, esophageal and gynecological cancers. It allows radiation to be delivered from every direction — unlike traditional radiation treatment options — and has been particularly valuable for retreating previously irradiated areas of the body and treating multiple metastases simultaneously. The conformity and tracking capability allows doctors to target an intense amount of radiation exactly to the tumor site, with much greater precision.
“So a patient’s anatomy and body positioning is correct on a daily basis,” said Mark McLaughlin, M.D., medical director of radiation oncology at WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta. “This customizes delivery for each patient, surrounding the treatment target with highly precise radiation and exposure from multiple angles. It also minimizes radiation exposure to healthy tissues, and because you’re setting the patient up using imaging on a daily basis, if the patient gains or loses treatment or if the tumor changes, adjustments can be made in the treatment plan.”
“This combination can lead to improved outcomes for patients,” he said.
In addition, patients’ treatment times are reduced and shorter courses of radiation are required. It reduces long and short-term side effects.
“Because TomoTherapy is so effective, patients don’t have to put their lives on hold,” McLaughlin said. “Patients can go to their scheduled tee times and spend more time with loved ones.”
WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta is not only one of three facilities in Georgia to offer TomoTherapy; it is also in the process of becoming a training site.
WellStar Cancer Center at Kennestone Hospital also boasts a first-in-the-nation collaboration with the American Cancer Society (ACS). Specially trained nurse navigators staff the center and assist patients seeking information from the abundant in-house and online libraries. Meanwhile, kiosks allow patients to chat live with an ACS navigator through an online portal — yet another example of how technology is improving patient care.
From performing neurosurgery without a scalpel to a highly targeted radiation treatment to fight certain cancers, technology has opened the doors to medical advancements never dreamed possible. To our North Georgia healthcare providers, it’s about more than trends and fl ashy new devices — it’s about saving lives.