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Medical centers compete in offering high-tech cancer tools


Competition between Central Iowa’s largest health providers is bringing state-of-the-art cancer care to patients who otherwise have to travel hundreds of miles from their homes to access the latest technology.

Mercy Medical Center received approval from the Iowa Department of Health on Dec. 9 to proceed with plans to purchase a $3.3 million Stereotactic Radiosurgery System, which it plans to have installed and operational by April 2005.

The approval comes on the heels of the adoption of similar technology by Iowa Methodist Medical Center’s John Stoddard Cancer Center, which began stereotactic radiosurgery treatments two weeks ago. The potential for duplication of services in Central Iowa prompted close scrutiny of Mercy’s request by the Iowa Health Facilities Council, which approved it by a 3-1 vote.

“Stereotactic radiosurgery is a service that all large cancer centers have or will need to have in the near future,” said Joe LeValley, senior vice president for planning of Mercy Medical Center. “It is the next evolution in cancer care, and now, fortunately, is being used for more than cancer, for other kinds of growths and lesions on the body that are causing people problems.”

The system, called CyberKnife, allows radiation treatments to be delivered with pinpoint accuracy that enables patients to literally walk in and walk out from a handful of procedures with no pain or side effects, he said.

In late November, the Stoddard Cancer began performing treatments with a different version of an SRS, which was installed for less than $1 million by converting one of its three existing linear accelerators used to provide radiation treatments.

Officials from Iowa Health–Des Moines, which operates Iowa Methodist along with Iowa Lutheran Hospital and Blank Children’s Hospital, expressed concern to the health facilities council that Mercy’s proposed system would duplicate services it just began providing. Both hospitals have estimated approximately 120 to 150 patients per year would use their systems.

“We’re not opposing it,” said Sid Ramsey, Iowa Health-Des Moines’ vice president for strategic business development and marketing. “We’re simply saying, we have a system available here at the Stoddard Cancer Center. That’s what we’ve been moving forward with for quite some time.”

Because Iowa Health’s system uses attachments on one of three linear accelerators used by the cancer center, the adapted device can still be used for conventional radiation treatments when it’s not being used for SRS, Ramsey said.

“We felt that it was the most flexible option to meet many types of patients’ needs, rather than just one small patient population,” he said.

LeValley said Mercy’s proposed system, which will employ real-time imaging and robotics to compensate for small movements by the patient, will enable the medical center to provide a broader range of cancer treatments on all parts of the body, not just the head and neck.

Mercy plans to use its cash reserves to pay the total $4.7 million cost, which includes the system and construction of a special vault to hold the system. Iowa Health, on the other hand, said that it paid for its system upgrade entirely with donated funds.

Though Mercy officials believe they’ve chosen the best system, both systems are “important improvements for the care of patients,” LeValley said.

“(Iowa Health) picked one approach, we picked another,” he said. “I think differences are good; the outcome of this is that patients and physicians referring patients for care will have an option, and I think that’s a very positive thing for the people of Central Iowa.”

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