From the first CT scan at Poudre Valley Hospital almost 40 years ago to the 3 Tesla MRI at Medical Center of the Rockies and northern Colorado’s only open MRI machine, Advanced Medical Imaging Consultants (AMIC) has been a mainstay in UCHealth’s mission to provide exceptional care and drive better outcomes.
“When I look at everything that we do, the AMIC radiologists are ingrained in every step,” said Jack Retzlaff, director of imaging services for UCHealth Northern Colorado. “From protocols or the design of a department to providing feedback on equipment or systems, they are involved. And that synergy is multifaceted. It’s not just about the technology but the outflow of what images, how they look, how they’re presented and the quality of which a radiologist reads.”
This year, that synergy celebrates 40 years.
AMIC teamed up with Poudre Valley Hospital in 1976. The group, which then consisted of only three radiologists, helped move the hospital forward in imaging technology so much that a few years later, the hospital created a radiology department.
“It was the best radiology department in all six surrounding states,” said Dr. Tom Luttenegger, an AMIC radiologist who was head of the X-ray department from 1983 until he retired 25 years later.
As PVH grew, so did its radiology department and AMIC. The program started with X-ray and fluoroscopy in the late 70s. By March 1981, a whole-body CT scanner arrived, weighing 13,276 pounds and costing $800,000. It would take 1,000 scans in the first year to break even; the group did almost 700 in the first six months. (In comparison, in the last six months of 2015, more than 12,300 CT scans were done at PVH.)
PVH’s nuclear medicine department also evolved. By 1985, the hospital system had its second CT scanner, and in 1987, an MRI machine. To continue providing the community with the latest technology close to home, more equipment, facilities and radiologists were added in the 1990s and 2000s. In February 2015, a 3T MRI was added — the first to come to northern Colorado. The machine, stationed at MCR, has a magnetic field twice the strength of the industry standard, yielding faster scans and higher-definition images.
As technology improved, so did the skills of AMIC radiologists, all of whom have additional fellowship training that provides them expertise in subspecialty areas, such as vascular interventional radiology, neuroradiology, body imaging and musculoskeletal MRI, as well as abdominal, cardiac and women’s imaging.
“We have evolved to the point that we provide service that is equivalent to that provided by any major medical system,” said AMIC Chief Executive Officer Stan Podolski. “Radiologists are oftentimes just behind the scenes — called the doctor’s doctor — but these doctors go through medical training that includes one year of a medical or surgical internship, four years of radiology and then an additional one to two years of fellowship subspecialty training.”
Retzlaff said it’s the doctors’ expertise that helps to elevate UCHealth Northern Colorado’s radiology program and the hospital system’s level of care.
“This is an important feature for a group this size [which includes more than 40 radiologists],” he said. “And then there is the fact they are available 24/7. Having that direct connection to great radiologists is another unique feature.”
AMIC radiologists, though mostly behind the scenes, touch almost every area of health care. Members of the team identify a variety of maladies — if a middle-aged man has pulmonary nodules in his lungs, a grandmother has a tumor in her breast and any problems that may show in a CT scan from the emergency department. And they do this all hours of the night — reading images themselves instead of outsourcing after-hours services to a national company.
“We believe that providing that interpretation in real time is important,” said Dr. Christopher Fleener, radiologist and president of AMIC.
And because of this wide spectrum of involvement in care, UCHealth has found it important that AMIC be involved in other aspects of its health care system. Each of AMIC’s radiologists serves on UCHealth boards, committees and councils – providing their imaging expertise. For example, on Tuesdays, an AMIC advanced body subspecialist, such as Fleener, and interventional radiologists meet at UCHealth’s multidisciplinary tumor board conference with oncologists and surgeons to discuss cases of newly diagnosed cancer patients.
“[AMIC radiologists] are incredibly proactive and represent the organization well,” Retzlaff said. “They are the resident experts for not only their peers but for others. And it’s not just the reading of the exam but the consultation on both ends of the spectrum. As consultants, they help direct the imaging care that is delivered. There is incredible collaboration. … And if you look at quality, I’d match up our quality to anyone else in the country.”