Baptist Health International officials said a new PET/CT scanner they expect to have installed and ready to operate in the coming weeks will mean many Cayman Islands cancer patients will no longer have to travel abroad to access the diagnostic tool.
Dr. Mario Mendez, vice president and chief medical officer for Baptist Health, said more than 900 Cayman cancer patients travel overseas annually to get such scans. He estimates at least half of those patients will be able to now have the procedure done here.
Dr. Mendez, who is based in Florida, was in Cayman Wednesday to promote the new machine, which he said should be up and running in Baptist Health’s new offices on Smith Road “within the next month or so.”
Baptist Health International, an arm of Baptist Health South Florida’s network of hospitals, has maintained an office in Cayman since 2009, mostly providing medical referrals. Rebekah Brooks, managing director for Baptist Health International Cayman Islands, said it was clear to her that the Cayman Islands needed a PET scanner.
Ms. Brooks said she saw too many patients having to go abroad for treatment.
“I noticed such a high incidence of oncology patients coming through our doors,” she said.
Many needed PET scans, which meant traveling to Florida.
“The more we can keep people in Cayman, the better it is for our community and for the insurance companies,” Ms. Brooks said.
She pitched the idea of bringing a PET – positron emission tomography – scanner to the island to her superiors in Florida. They gave the idea their OK. She thought it would take a year and a half to get one here. It took three.
“It’s finally here,” she said at a press tour on Wednesday of the clinic’s new location on Smith Road, which was designed to accommodate the PET scanner, which also does CT scans. “I feel like pinching myself.”
Dr. Mendez said having the new device is a “game changer” for healthcare in Cayman.
“Historically, because of the absence of this technology, patients would have to go off islands and their respective insurance companies would have to pick up the cost,” he said.
He also expects the service to attract patients from other Caribbean islands who don’t have access to the technology.
“This will help patients who may not be able to get a visa to get to the U.S., but can come here,” he said. “This could very easily become a destination for this kind of technology.”
During a PET scan, a patient is injected with a radioisotope that adheres specifically to cancerous cells. The scanner detects the low-level radiation and produces an image showing the location of the diseased area. Such scans are an important tool in detecting the disease early.
“The key thing in controlling or eliminating cancer is early detection,” Dr. Mendez said.
PET scans are also useful in treating some cardiovascular and neurological conditions, he said.
While Baptist Health has a presence elsewhere in the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and Aruba, Dr. Mendez said the PET/CT scanner is the first such investment the company has made outside the United States.
“Such an investment is due to the long-term relationship with Cayman,” he said. “We’ve established deep ties to the island.”