Low dose CT scans are lowering the risk of radiation for patients who want to find out if their lungs are damaged by smoking, and a screening program is targeting people who’ve been long time smokers.

Tim Smith, CT technologist at CHI Mercy Outpatient Imaging and David Price, Mercy Health Mission Leader and a member of the Community Benefit Team, who talked about a new smoking cessation program, were guests on the Talking Health radio program on News Radio 1240 KQEN last week. The two were interviewed by Lisa Platt.

The following is an edited version of that interview.

Lisa: Would you tell us what a low dose CT scan does?

Tim: The CT scan, or Cat Scan machine, is an imaging device that you use to look inside a person and it uses x-rays and those x-rays penetrate your body through some detectors.

There is a big computer that takes the information and puts it onto a monitor where the images can be interpreted by a radiologist.

Lisa: The specialty of this low dose CT scan is to look for lung cancer?

Tim: Correct. It’s a technique where we turn their x-rays, or their radiation dose down really low to get some good quality images, and get the information we need without over-radiating the patient.

Lisa: And that’s different from the regular Cat Scan in what ways?

Tim: We can adjust the dose that goes to the patient, and the dose is the amount of x-rays and voltage and milliamp. So what we do is look at a patient’s body size, and we have three different ranges that we use to determine the dose to give the patient.

Lisa: When did you start offering this screening service?

Tim: We did our first trial of the low dose scan on Jan. 25.

Lisa: How do community members get referred to this service?

Tim: They go to their health care provider and they can discuss it. They will council the patient on smoking, and you get signed up through us.

Lisa: Who should get one of these scans done?

Tim: The screening program has just recently been recognized through the CMS. They target 55 to 77 years, and for private insurance it’s 55 to 80 years. They want patients that have smoked at a 30 pack/year level, so that’s one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years. Or it could be two packs a day for 15 years to be in the screening program.

Your information is put into a national data base to the American College of Radiology, where we’re going to input all the parameters of your scan, what we found, and then any followups that may be necessary.

On a normal scan, we’ll do a 12 month followup. If there’s something we’ve found, it could be anywhere from three to six months followup, or an immediate scan if necessary.

Also, if you have quit smoking and you are interested to see if there is any damage, if it’s less than 15 years since you’ve quit, but you still had smoked the same volume, then you qualify for the program.

Lisa: Is there any harm or risk of getting a low dose CT scan?

Tim: Well, you do get radiated, there are x-rays. It’s not that much as far as the world of x-rays goes and there’s not any real damage from it.

Lisa: Insurance will cover this procedure?

Tim: Medicare and Medicaid are covering it. Most private insurance cover it, and more and more are recognizing it.

Lisa: How long does an exam take?

Tim: An exam can take probably 10 to 15 minutes. We have a person that’s a navigator and she will give them information and a pamphlet and go over any questions or concerns.

Lisa: And how soon do you find out the results?

Tim: Usually it’s 24 to 48 hours.

Lisa: Where are you located?

Tim: We are on Harvard Avenue at the Medical Park and we are currently doing them only on Wednesdays, but if a patient can’t make that day, we’ll accommodate them.

If you have smoked and you have any concerns or you just want to get checked out, it’s worth a couple of minutes to go in and get screened.

Lisa: David Price, tell us a little about how the “Become an Ex-Smoker” works.

David: It’s a digital smoking cessation platform. One component is an interactive mobile and web based content and tobacco cessation tools.

This also gives you the opportunity to design your own personalized quit plan. There is access to an online support community. There is a comprehensive e-mail campaign and there’s an interactive text messaging program that is tailored to each user.

Lisa: What are the three steps this program offers?

David: Number one, re-learn habit so you learn effectively to manage triggers without lighting up.

Re-learn addiction. We know now from neuroscience studies that nicotine changes the chemistry in the brain, so that makes it harder for individuals to quit.

Re-learn support, so support from friends and family can increase your chances of quitting.

Ex shows you how to get the support you need and then connects you with a community of ex-smokers who can help show you how to stop most effectively.

Lisa: How can people be referred to the program?

David: Referral options are strongly encouraged.

It’s a no cost evidence-based strategy for reducing the incidence of smoking, and a reduction in consumption rates means a decrease over time in cardiovascular disease and other cancers that are related to smoke inhalation.

We’re improving convenience and we’re mitigating the cost burden.

Lisa: How do people in our community get information about this program?

David: Currently, the best option is the website becomeanex.org.

Reporter Dan Bain can be reached at 541-957-4221 or e-mail at dbain@nrtoday.com.

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