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Published Jul. 9, 2010

A medical procedure or stay in the hospital can be nerve-racking. But area hospital officials are trying to change that tide, constantly coming up with new techniques and technology to improve patient outcomes and ensure better care - as well as to tout the benefits of their hospital over their competitors. Innovations flow year-round from just about every facility in the Tampa Bay area. Here is a sampling of the latest from some Hillsborough hospitals.

Town & Country Hospital

Softer, better mammogram

About 35 percent of women 40 and older do not adhere to mammogram testing recommendations each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Discomfort ranks among the top reasons why. At Town & Country Hospital, doctors are offering a softer mammogram experience with the use of a MammoPad, a cushion that fits between the patient's breast and the mammography machine. It also provides more accurate results, said Dr. Guillermo Castellvi, a general surgeon at the hospital. The cushion helps the patient relax her pectoral muscle, allowing a better image of the chest wall, Castellvi said.

University Community Hospital

High-tech sterilization

It looks like a big bug zapper on wheels. And in a way it is. To better kill germs, the Intelligent Room Sterilization system uses high-intensity electromagnetic energy, which can be more effective than workers cleaning with disinfectants. Hospital officials hope to use it in cases when patients have drug-resistant conditions, such as staph.

With the flip of a switch, the rays' intensity alters to fit the size of the room and kills germs throughout, including high germ rate areas like door handles, bed rails, call buttons and monitors. The machine would be used in conjunction with the housekeeping staff. A before and after test found that the device reduced germs by 98 percent - in about eight minutes.

"You're assured at that point that a prior patient doesn't transfer their organisms," said Jacqueline Whitaker, director of infection control for UCH. The hospital expects to start using two machines in the coming months.

Tampa General

More precise knee replacement

Among the most important aspects of a partial knee replacement is the placement of the implant, said Dr. Thomas Bernasek, an orthopedic surgeon and vice chief of staff at Tampa General Hospital. And with the help of the new MAKOplasty, surgeons are getting that critical piece right more often. The machine reads CAT-scanned 3-D images of a patient's knee and calculates the exact area that requires implantation. The robotic technology was a solution to a problem that had plagued knee replacement surgery: putting the implant in the wrong place. "The orientation of the components is important to longevity and success," Bernasek said. "This just pushes the accuracy more."

St. Joseph's North

Pharmacy of the future

Forget the days of the white-coated pharmacist counting out pills one by one. That duty has gone digital at the new St. Joseph's North hospital. Bar codes keep track of prescriptions, a robotic dispenser ensures the proper count and biometric identification is used to avoid theft. It's one of the only high-tech pharmacies in the area. "We're trying to use all the technology we can to make it as safe as possible for our patients," said Michael Magee, director of pharmacy for St. Joseph's Hospitals. The technology hasn't eliminated the need for a human pharmacist. In fact, it has given pharmacists time to do other things. At St. Joseph's North, pharmacists have become part of the team that responds to patients in cardiac arrest, go on rounds and provide individual patient education about prescriptions.

Brandon Regional Hospital

Precise radiation therapy

Radiation therapy continues to be a desirable method for treating cancerous tumors. But traditional methods often kill healthy tissue surrounding the problem. Doctors at Brandon Regional are now using Cyberknife technology to cut down on unwanted radiation. "Radiation is not good for anybody, said Gary Litvin, administrative director of radiology and Cyberknife for Brandon Regional Hospital. "So when you irradiate somebody you want to get just the bad tension, the lesion, the cancer. You don't want to hit the good tissue." The Cyberknife is based on the same robot technology used by German automotive manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, said Jonathan Martin, radiation therapist at the hospital. X-ray imaging locates cancerous tumors in the body, and the Cyberknife pinpoints and delivers radiotherapy to that precise location. The treatment has none of the side effects of conventional radiation, including skin burns and fatigue, Martin said.

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at or (813) 226-3405.