TierneyWhen a technology can predict a heart attack, determine if a mass is malignant or benign, or confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease (all in a single scan), it should get noticed. And PET-CT is gaining attention, alongside cousin SPECT-CT. Oh and did I mention PET-CT’s niche in targeting intensity modulated radiation therapy?

Several hundred units have been installed around the globe and sales forecasts are robust for the foreseeable future ($1 billion over the next three years). Industry consensus says PET-CT, which debuted in 2000, will overtake sales of stand-alone PET units over the next year or two. In 2002, the combined PET and PET-CT markets generated $481.23 million in revenue at an annual growth rate of 55 percent, according to market research firm Frost & Sullivan. The PET market accounted for approximately 55 percent of revenue, while PET-CT grabbed 45 percent of the market.

The numbers tell the story, but there’s always more to keeping a good thing going. And every new technology comes with a new set of needs: physician educators to teach others about their new findings and practices; experts to properly site equipment and educate staff; and technologists to run these scanners day in and day out. With the drasticness of the technologist shortages in most areas of the country, finding qualified technologists for hybrid imaging is serious business. And of course, not just any tech will do.

Last summer, the Society of Nuclear Medicine Technologist Section and the American Society of Radiologic Technologists convened a conference to develop recommendations for the education, qualifications and regulations of the personnel operating hybrid imaging systems. Included in the group were physicians, technologists, educators, state regulators, system manufacturers’ and radiopharmaceutical company reps and certification and accreditation bodies. The meeting released a 10-page consensus paper and formed a task force to identify essential core competencies, review and evaluate existing operator training materials and outline a formal course of study for cross-training PET-CT technologists.

Basically, the group agrees that technologists operating hybrid PET-CT scanners should be hybrids themselves — credentialed in both CT and nuclear medicine. But the reality of the situation is there are fewer than 5,000 people registered in radiography by ARRT or in nuclear medicine by ARRT or the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB). And even further, there are fewer than 200 ARRT- or NMTCB-registered nuclear medicine technologists credentialed in CT through a specialty exam offered by ARRT.

So who’s operating the units? Registered nuclear medicine technologists are most likely at the controls, as well as registered radiographers with and without CT credentials as well as registered radiation therapists and others, registered and unregistered. And when there is intense demand, comes boosts in salaries (see news, page 8).

The conference participants also urged states that license radiographers, nuclear medicine technologists or radiation therapists to amend regulations to permit any of these professionals to perform PET-CT exams after proper training. And for states lacking licensing, the group suggests as a model the Consumer Assurance of Radiologic Excellence bill, a federal legislative proposal currently sitting in committee in the House and Senate.

For more details on the consensus statements, visit the SNM’s website at www.snm.org. And for more details on hybrid imaging, what’s new in SPECT and the Economics of PET, see this month’s special section beginning on page NM-25.

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Mary C. Tierney, Editor
[email protected]