Health January 13, 2009

Body & Soul: High-tech Health

Just a few years ago, residents of the Wood River Valley were forced to travel hundreds of miles for many major medical tests. Sure, we had Blaine County Medical Center and Moritz Hospital—small facilities, but excellent health-care providers—and the two eventually merged to create the Wood River Medical Center, which offered even more services. The local hospital still fell short, however, when it came to offering the latest medical advances. And so, many of us became accustomed to traveling out of the area—to Boise or Twin Falls—for most of our diagnostic tests or important screenings.

Fortunately, through the combined efforts of several Wood River Valley organizations, much of that has changed.

The new facility at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, which opened its doors in 2000, has contributed greatly to the new health tests and screenings now available locally. For starters, from the day its doors first opened, the new facility has had CAT Scan (Computed Axial Tomography) capability 24 hours a day. Using computers to generate three-dimensional images from two-dimensional X-rays, the CT, as it is sometimes called, can show several types of tissue—lung, bone, and soft tissue—as well as blood vessels, with great clarity. For this reason, it’s often used to diagnose many different cancers, including lung, liver, and pancreatic. It also plays a significant role in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of vascular diseases that can lead to stroke or kidney failure. Best of all, a CT is a patient-friendly exam that involves little radiation exposure.

The incredible variety of outdoor activities performed every day by those living in and visiting our mountain paradise can sometimes lead to tendon or ligament injuries—knees, shoulders, and backs. Lucky for us, Valley physicians now have access to MRI technology, also known as Magnetic Resonance Imagery, through St. Luke’s. With MRI, a large scanning machine utilizes a magnetic field and radio frequency waves to produce high-quality, computerized images of the inside of the human body. MRIs are especially useful in diagnosing injuries to the back and knee, for example, or for detecting other problems including tumors and brain disorders.

Also new since the arrival of the new hospital is the availability of Bone Mineral Density (BMD) testing. The test, which requires a special X-ray machine, is used to determine bone mass and the risk of fracture in women and men who are susceptible to osteoporosis.

If your needs are a little less technical—you just want to check your cholesterol or blood pressure, for example—there may be no need to see a specialist thanks to the new diagnostic and wellness tests offered by the Center for Community Health. Now under the umbrella of St. Luke’s Center for Community Health, the group has expanded to offer a full range of screening tests for little or no cost. Free skin cancer screenings and blood pressure checks are held on a regular basis. Other screening tests and programs, which vary from month-to-month, include cholesterol, hearing, depression, and a new PSA blood test for prostate cancer. Support groups for new mothers and cancer patients, as well as brown-bag discussions led by local physicians and specialists on topics from anxiety to nutrition, are also sponsored by the center each month.

Newcomers to the Valley who have moved here from major urban areas may not realize there is much to be thankful for in having such sophisticated and comprehensive hospital services at their fingertips, but “old-timers” really appreciate the presence of the organizations that provide these services. Now we don’t have to drive to Boise to get the most up-to-date medical treatment. It’s right in our own backyard.

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.