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New imaging center to bring medical testing under one roof
Hospital to break ground Thursday
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If there’s anything more tedious than having to undergo medical tests, it’s having to drive from one hospital to another when you need to have more than one test done.

Northeast Georgia Health System is trying to address that issue by consolidating nearly all of its outpatient testing at one location.

Thursday morning, the health system will break ground on its new imaging center, which will be built just east of the existing center at the corner of Sims Street and Jesse Jewell Parkway. Completion is expected in February 2009.

The $23 million project is more ambitious than initially envisioned. "Medical Park 1" will be a three-story building, with the first floor dedicated to imaging services and the other two floors to be rented out as medical office space.

"We decided to add medical office space because it’s desperately needed," said Dane Henry, vice president of support services for the health system. "Physicians who do procedures want to be close to the hospital."

The medical center’s main campus is undergoing a major expansion, with the $190 million North Patient Tower and $50 million Women & Children’s Pavilion currently under construction.

"But the main campus expansion doesn’t include any medical office space," Henry said.

So the imaging center, a couple blocks down the road, is the next best option. Henry said the new building will have about 56,000 square feet of office space, to be built out according to physicians’ individual specifications.

But the most pressing need is for a new imaging center. Debbie Duke, director of imaging services for the health system, said the existing center served about 43,000 patients last year, compared to about 35,000 five years ago.

"There’s so much patient volume that we have to do some testing at the main hospital and some at the Lanier Park campus," she said.

The new center will have about 30,000 square feet of imaging space, compared to about 13,000 feet in the existing building, which is about 20 years old.

"We’ll move completely out of the old building, but it will be attached to the new building," Duke said. "The hospital will decide later what they want to use (the old one) for."

Some services that are now offered only within the hospital, including nuclear medicine, PET scanning, and the high-power 3-Tesla MRI, will be moved to the new imaging center.

"Those services are all used mostly for outpatient testing, so there’s no reason for them to be inside the hospital," Duke said.

And one old standby will be coming back. Fluoroscopy, better known to patients as "barium x-ray," was moved to Lanier Park due to lack of space; it will return to the imaging center after construction is completed.

The new building will also feature a "center within a center." There will be a special area dedicated to women’s imaging, with its own waiting room. And even the waiting room will be divided, with separate areas for women who are getting routine screening mammograms and those who are getting diagnostic mammograms for suspected cancer.

"Their customer service needs are different," Duke said. "The diagnostic exams take a lot longer."

The women’s imaging services offered will include digital mammography, bone density scanning, ultrasound, breast MRI and stereotactic breast biopsy.

"We’ve grouped modalities together for efficiency," Duke said. "The architect we’re using does nothing but design imaging centers, so the layout will make sense for patients."

For example, for the first time the imaging center will have a prep area for patients who are about to undergo procedures.

"Someone who has to drink contrast liquid before getting a CT scan will be able to do that in private instead of while sitting out in the waiting room," Duke said.

She said all of the waiting areas will be more comfortable, with wireless Internet access.

And parking will be much easier. Currently, people trying to get to the imaging center from the eastbound side of Jesse Jewell have to make a difficult left turn across heavy traffic. The new building will have parking access off Barn Street, which has a stoplight.

And once people get there, they usually won’t have to get back into their cars until all their testing is done.

"The advantage for patients is that we’re consolidating services, so you don’t have to drive from one test to another," Duke said.

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