Objective: The purpose of this study was to compare digital and conventional methods of gastrointestinal imaging based on the cost of image storage and estimated overall costs, radiation exposure to the patient, and duration of the examination.
Materials and methods: Our study sample consisted of 128 patients who underwent conventional gastrointestinal studies (64 double-contrast upper gastrointestinal examinations and 64 double-contrast barium enemas) and 139 patients who underwent digital gastrointestinal studies (66 double-contrast upper gastrointestinal examinations and 73 double-contrast barium enemas). The number of images and films for each study was recorded, and the mean cost of image storage and the estimated overall costs for digital versus conventional studies were calculated. Both the duration of fluoroscopy and the time from start to completion of the study were obtained from our radiology information system. From these data, we calculated mean radiation exposure to the patient and the duration of the examination. Finally, referring physicians completed a questionnaire about their level of satisfaction with paper prints generated from digital gastrointestinal studies.
Results: When digital studies were compared with conventional studies, the mean cost of image storage decreased by 45% and the estimated overall 10-year costs decreased by 8%. The mean number of spot images increased by 8% for upper gastrointestinal examinations and by 25% for barium enema examinations, whereas the mean duration of fluoroscopy decreased by 4% and by 10%, respectively. As a result, radiation exposure to patients increased by only 2%, a difference that did not approach statistical significance. Finally, the mean duration of examinations decreased by 24% for upper gastrointestinal examinations and by 33% for barium enemas. Approximately 85% of the physicians who completed the questionnaires indicated that they reviewed the paper prints generated from digital studies and that they would like to continue receiving them.
Conclusion: Digital gastrointestinal imaging systems are associated with higher initial costs than conventional systems, but the long-term costs of these digital imaging systems are slightly less because of the lower cost of image storage, and radiation exposure to patients is comparable. The shorter duration of digital examinations is a potential benefit of this technology, allowing improved patient throughput. Finally, referring physicians have a high level of satisfaction with paper prints generated from digital imaging.