History of the Mobile CT Scan

patient using mobile CT scanner

The incredible imaging capacity of computed tomography (CT) has pushed the medical industry to staggering heights. Unfortunately, CT scans have yet to help out the majority of medics in the battlefields, ambulance crews rushing to emergency situations, and even emergency room doctors. This is because conventional CT scanners are practically behemoths, weighing roughly 4,000 kilograms as well as requiring high-voltage capacities to power massive cooling systems and climate-controlled radiology rooms.

mobile CT scanner 16 slide system

Above: An image produced from a 16 slide CT scan system.

The lack of convenient and quick access to CT scans, especially when dealing with stroke or injuries involving brain trauma, has become a critical issue in the medical industry. Despite the continuous advancements in this realm of imaging technique, the immobility of CT scans has been a pain point that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. This is where the portable CT scanner comes in.

Around the 1990s, two types of CT scanners emerged. One is the “fixed” CT scanner, which refers to the huge machines still found in the majority of hospitals across the globe. The second is the mobile CT scanner, or the “portable” CT machine, which is lightweight and can be easily transported.


History of the Mobile CT Scanner

While there is no specific time and date that could pinpoint the first time a portable CT scanner was used, in 1949 came a surge in demand for “mobile health care.” Around the 1970s, the world’s first mobile CT scanner was launched by Medical Coaches Inc. via their founder Ian Smith’s deal with Peru.

This mobile CT scanner focused primarily on head scans and attempted to provide cross-sectional images of the heart as well. Apart from this, the mobile healthcare unit at the time also provided ultrasounds for pregnant women to evaluate the status of their hearts, gallbladders, breasts, and livers.


What are mobile CT scanners used for nowadays?

Throughout the years, the demand for a mobile CT scanner has increased exponentially due to the influx of incidents where medics have failed to swiftly provide care to stroke patients. These incidents paved the way to the study of utilizing and funding mobile stroke units (MSUs) in 2003. In 2008, the first-ever clinical application of an MSU was conducted at Saarland University in Germany.

mobile CT scanner used for MSU mobile stroke unit

Above: A modern MSU.

The initiative was rooted in the idea of “bringing the hospital to the patient,” which eventually decreased the waiting period from the initial distress call to therapy. More importantly, the presence of a portable CT scanner in these MSUs ensured that the professionals could treat patients quickly and accurately during emergencies.

Gradually, the need for MSUs featuring computed tomography equipment inspired 20 more sites across the globe. In January 2014, Houston’s Frazer Ltd designed and released the first MSU in the United States. Basing its setup on the recommendations of neurologists, the company incorporated a portable CT scanner in its hospital on wheels to drastically cut down on the treatment time. By 2016, New York’s Presbyterian Hospital became the first to field an MSU on the East Coast and reached a total of three functioning MSUs by 2018.

Another hospital that’s taking advantage of MSUs and portable CT scanners is the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Aside from the mobile CT scanner, the 14-ton ambulance is also equipped with tools that can infuse early fluids to their stroke patients as well as dye blood vessels to figure out the kind of stroke. Given that Tennessee has been identified as a “stroke belt,” this technology has been a life-changer for a lot of people.

The Memphis MSU staff takes only 13 to 14 minutes to provide treatment to their patients, which covers their response to the scene up to the application of medications to the veins – a far cry from the 40 to 50 minutes these tasks take in emergency rooms.

Neurologists have been hoping for more portable CT scanners, particularly in intensive care units. The availability of a mobile CT scanner on-hand would exponentially increase their efficiency, eliminating the need to transfer patients and all medical personnel to the location of the humongous fixed CT scanner.


Final thoughts

Computed tomography has evolved in an impressive way over the past 40 years. While it might be nearly impossible for the world to reach the advanced level of technology presented in Star Trek, where doctors can simply wave their wands to instantly diagnose their patients, this rapidly developing niche in radiology seems to be getting there.

History of the CT Scan

Doctor with patient using CT scan

Although computerized tomography (CT) – or computerized axial tomography (CAT) – scan is associated with science and technology, many would be surprised to learn that its humble beginnings could possibly be rooted in rock and roll. Specifically, the creation of this incredible technology has been widely attributed to the success of The Beatles in the 60s.

CT scan of the human neck

Above: A modern 3D scan of the human neck.

Rumor has it that Electric and Music Industries (EMI), which owned the Abbey Road Studios that catapulted the band to stardom, used the staggering sales from their albums in the 60s to fund the research that would later produce the “EMI scan” – what is more commonly known as the CT scan today. This means that anyone who danced to Beatles hits like “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “PS I Love You,” “Love Me Do,” and their remake of “Twist and Shout” are inadvertently responsible for this magnificent technology.


Who Invented the CT Scan?

The first commercially available CT scanner was created by British engineer Godfrey Hounsfield of EMI Laboratories in 1972. He co-invented the technology with physicist Dr. Allan Cormack. Both researchers were later on jointly awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. By 1981, Hounsfield was knighted and became Sir Godfrey Hounsfield.

Godfrey Hounsfield with CT scan

Above: Godfrey Hounsfield with the first commercial CT scanner.

However, it was the mathematical theory of Johann Radon way back in 1917, called “Radon transform,” that brought the technology to life. Another mathematical advancement that Hounsfield built on is the “Algebraic Reconstruction Technique,” which was formulated by Polish mathematician Stefan Kaczmarz in 1937. Both theories were adopted by Hounsfield to create one of the greatest advancements in medical history.

The first prototype CT scanner

Above: The first prototype of a CT scanner.

Interestingly, Hounsfield had no qualifications as he quit school at the tender age of 16. Hence, all the degrees bestowed upon him were honorary. He also never got married and claimed to have not established any “permanent residence” until he reached 60 years old. Although he later invented the CT scan, Hounsfield’s initial work with EMI focused on radar and guided weaponry. Despite his brilliance, Hounsfield’s peers described the Nobel winner as a “crank.” He passed away in 2004 at the age of 84.

So, what was the catalyst for his work with the CT scan?

According to Hounsfield, the idea to invent such technology came to him while on vacation. At the time, all he wanted was to reconstruct a 3D picture of a box. He intended to achieve this by re-imagining the object as a series of slices. His inspired thought led to further EMI research and funding, and the first commercially viable CT scan (previously called an EMI brain scanner) was set up at Atkinson’s Morley Hospital in 1971.

Before this happened, though, Hounsfield needed another boost to transition the brain scanner to mainstream medicine. This was where a consultant radiologist from the hospital, named James Ambrose, came in and helped the British engineer to create a prototype that they used to study preserved organs of humans and animals.

The first ever human patient to benefit from the brain scanner was a woman believed to be suffering from a brain tumor. The first doctor to utilize the machine on October 1, 1971, was James Ambrose. The entire process took days to complete as the scanner required many hours to obtain the raw data for a single scan, or “slice.” Afterward, a few more days were needed to reconstruct an image from the acquired data.


When Did CT Scans Become Widely Used?

Modern CT scanner

Above: A modern-day CT scanner.

The success of the prototype brain scanner at Atkinson Morley Hospital was publicized in 1972. By the year 1973, the United States had installed the first CT scanners of their own. The popularity of this method reached such staggering heights that by 1980, 3 million CT scan examinations had been recorded.


The Future of the CT Scan

The development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been touted as a massive boon for radiologists and pathologists across the globe, and the medical imaging industry is identified as one of the areas that would benefit from it the most.

NASA using CT scanner

Above: A future concept of a CT scanner being used on a NASA astronaut.

A prime example of this is the latest study which revealed that an AI platform can be capable of detecting acute neurologic occurrences in CT scan images within 1.2 seconds. The test was done using 37,000 head CT exams, with the results showing that the AI system could diagnose and identify neurological ailments like a stroke quicker than any human radiologist.

This development is critical to the improvement of patient care, particularly in alerting physicians to urgent concerns. Hours could turn into mere seconds as the process is 150 times faster – an advancement that would undoubtedly unburden the hospital staff. While the research has yet to be concluded, and the AI platform is still pending real-life tests, this study is a prime example of how this technology could work hand in hand with radiologists today.


Final Thoughts

A CT scan offers a plethora of benefits to those with internal injuries or other kinds of trauma. This technology allows doctors to visualize practically all parts of the patient’s body and helps them diagnose diseases accurately. It can identify bone and joint diseases, such as complicated bone fractures and even tumors. For patients with illnesses like cancer, liver masses, and heart disease, a CT scan guides the doctors into tracking the specific parts afflicted by the ailments. Blood clots and infections can also be easily spotted with the help of this technology.

Further, a CT scan is a critical tool in planning a patient’s treatment – be it for surgical, medical, or radiation purpose. Doctors can use the results as tools to determine which medications are working and what other treatments could be utilized. Needless to say, CT scans have come a long way since the day Hounsfield introduced them to the world. This brain scanning technology has evolved into one of the most crucial and valuable tools in modern medicine.

Mobile Siemens CT Unit Now Available In The USA And Canada

Mobile Siemens CT Unit

At Catalina Imaging, we’re constantly striving to provide an industry-leading level of service.

From our units’ warm lighting and welcoming mural of Catalina Island to maximize patient comfort to our 24/7 customer support and state-of-the-art technology, we strive to make your experience with us as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

To continue this mission we are excited to announce that we have expanded our fleet to include a Siemens SOMATOM® Perspective. This will enable those with Siemens needs to work seamlessly with our fleet.

Additionally, we have expanded our service area to include Canada. Our GE, Toshiba, and Siemens unit are available.

Learn more about our Siemens mobile CT scanner.

Integrate Mobile Medical Imaging Without A Headache

Medical Imaging Logos

Written By: Timothy M. Gustafson MBA, RT ( R )

There are several reasons that you or your institution may be considering utilizing mobile medical imaging in modalities such as CT, MRI, and PET/CT.

Some of the more common reasons include supplementation of existing imaging resources, maintaining service during technology replacement and upgrades, and increasing your capabilities just to name a few.

With the right consideration and planning this can be a very rewarding endeavor but like many things, lack of preparation can have disastrous consequences.

After 18 years in the field working with scores of clients and manufacturers, I have seen a myriad of results from various levels of preparation.

Failure to adequately prepare can be one of the costlier mistakes one can make in this area. Service disruptions are not only costly but can also affect patient care by causing delays and potentially compromise critical programs such as supporting stroke programs when CT resources are not readily available or operational.

So how can we prepare to take the processes and systems we have used inside the hospital and successfully transition them to a mobile trailer?

This is the prevalent question when preparing for this transition.

Staff and leadership alike can often be intimidated by the change in location, processes, and routines. This has a direct effect on the staffs’ confidence in their abilities and comfort with their surroundings while caring for patients.

This mental obstacle is often the first hurdle I assist institutions and teams with as I work to integrate what they do well with the numerous changes.

To that end, I have devised the top 5 aspects to consider prior to deciding on a vendor or signing a contract. While not intended to be an all-inclusive guide to successful planning, I wanted to pass along some of the more important considerations when “going mobile”.

1. Time

mobile medical imaging timeline

Before getting too far into the process of selecting a technology or a vendor, it is critical to determine how long the equipment will be needed.

In the case of adding mobile while in-house equipment is being upgraded or replaced, it is important to prepare for delays that too often occur and are largely out of our control.

If your CT vendor estimates a 12-month install, it is highly advised that you have mobile equipment in place or contracted for 1-3 months longer than the estimated install.

It can be problematic when the equipment you are contracted for is devoted to a follow-on assignment at the end of the contract. In some cases, an extension of contract terms can be at a higher rate than the initial contract which turns into a truly unnecessary cost.

2. Training

mobile medical imaging logos

This is an area near and dear to my heart.

A transition to a mobile environment can be a challenge in and of itself but when the new equipment involves learning a new manufacturer or process, the challenge can be greatly increased.

Terminology and workflow differ between GE, Siemens, Toshiba, Hitachi, and others.

The differences are not always intuitive or simply a matter of new terminology. In most cases, staff will not have the time to train typically provided with a new manufacturer installation.

In my experience, I generally have had 2-5 days to train multiple Technologists how to use equipment that they are at best minimally familiar with. The process can be even more challenging when Cardiac, CTA, or special procedures are involved. Quite often budgetary and time constraints mean learning the basics quickly and instituting a “train the trainer” approach to bringing all Technologists up to speed.

An important consideration in this area entails seeking to allocate mobile units that are identical or close to the equipment being installed. This essentially gives your institution an invaluable head start on being proficient once the new in-house equipment is ready to use. When this is not possible, it is suggested to select technology as close to what the staff is already trained on to prevent having to learn skills applicable to the mobile unit during the interim but not applicable before or after the mobile unit arrives.

3. Physical Layout

In addition to a level and an easily accessible location to place the mobile unit, there are a few key things to keep in mind.

Proximity to power sources, the emergency room, protection from the elements, and distance from other services are key considerations. With longer term mobile engagements, awnings and/or pathways may need to be installed to ensure patient safety and security.

It is important to note that distance from network connections can directly affect the reliability and strength of IT connections which makes this almost as important as how fast the equipment can scan.

4. Equipment Needs

As we know, it takes more than diagnostic imaging equipment to run an Imaging department. contrast injectors, durable goods, disposable medical equipment, faxes, and computers are just a few of the items needing to be relocated to the mobile unit in order to function effectively.

As a rule of thumb, if you needed it in the hospital, you will need it in the trailer.

This includes oxygen and crash carts which are often the last pieces of equipment to be relocated. It is of utmost importance to test the equipment in the new location prior to go-live in the mobile unit to mitigate post transition failures.

Common hospital beds can often be hard to maneuver and in some cases may not fit safely in a mobile unit. For this, I typically suggest using ambulance stretchers or wheelchairs to bring the patient out to the mobile unit.

Lastly, it is crucial to ensure that all stakeholders understand the needs of the mobile unit. This is particularly true for emergency personnel, biomedical engineers, and respiratory specialists who will need to ensure that their respective areas are in a constant state of readiness. Equipment failures can often have a magnified negative effect in a mobile environment.

5. Safety and Security

When not properly supported, technologists and support staff in a mobile unit can often feel isolated. This can have serious consequences for patient safety when staff does not know who to call when something goes wrong.

Additionally, it is paramount to ensure that resources such as Code Blue and Rapid Response teams are not only aware of new locations and processes, but perform live tests responding to issues in the trailer.

It is a serious problem if a Code Blue is called in the mobile unit and the team does not know where to find the patient. While this seems like common sense, there have been instances where this was overlooked.

Lastly, staff need to be familiar and able to teach other staff how to operate patient lifts and other equipment safely as they often have not been exposed to working in this environment.

While these elements may at first seem daunting, benefits of mobile imaging include service and support during the duration of the rental typically included in the monthly rental costs and exposure to newer technology. Proper planning with a long-term focus can actually render the project a worthwhile investment.

For best results, planning is key and there are many resources in the marketplace to assist your endeavor. Start early by seeking a trusted vendor as well as reaching out to your network or others for experiences and feedback and ask questions until you have all of the answers that you need to capitalize on the investment of your time and money.

I wish you success and as always, feel free to reach out to me if we can help make this a more manageable process.

Timothy M. Gustafson MBA, RT ( R )
Director of Imaging
Director of Applications Training

Planning For A Mobile CT Lease

Man's Finger On Phone And Tablet

Many customers who come to us for an interim CT lease do not have the necessary site requirements to park or run mobile units. It is unfortunate that when a hospital is designed, a proper pad and power for mobile units is not always in the plans. We consistently find a way to make it work.

Power is the biggest issue that can cause nightmare situations; if not preplanned and built to specs. Without proper power a generator must be rented locally and ran 24/7 to keep the unit ready for operation. Generators emit fumes and noise while running. This can disturb patients or nearby homes. The cost of gas for around the clock operation can wreak havoc on any budget. If you run out of gas everything comes to a halt. Patients are not getting treated and the OEM may have to come onsite to make sure the sudden power dropout did not damage the unit. One of our sites running on generator recently called us when the generator quit running and a patient was on the trailer. We talked them through manually opening the rollup door and running the patient lift on battery power to get the patient safely out of the mobile.

The next issue hospitals face is location. Where do you park a fifty foot semi-truck trailer so that patients and staff can access it easily and power can be connected? The ideal pad is a cement one with a slight slope for drainage. We have successfully parked on broken asphalt and even dirt, but the trailers level can go off as the unit settles into the soft surface.

So now that I have told you the nightmares let me tell you about my dream site. We recently rented to a site that had a cement pad with power available right at the side of the pad. The patient access was designed so that they came out directly adjacent to the mobiles lift. Then the coup de grace! The building was U shaped around the pad so the wind did not buffet the unit or patients coming out to it. The only thing that I could dream of to make this the ultimate design would be an A frame roof covering the pad to keep out rain and snow.

What can I say I dream of unusual things?

Our Newest GE Mobile CT Unit

GE Lightspeed CT

Catalina Imaging delivers state-of-the-art and comfortable mobile CT scanners to you.

This GE VCT 64 slice system and trailer come complete with:

  • Full OEM service on the CT and Injector
  • ASiR software for a leap ahead in dose management
  • Low Dose Lung Screening with built-in protocols
  • Custom lighting in gantry and control rooms
  • A superb sound system with Bluetooth capabilities
  • Beautiful full-length wall mural to help your patients relax


Learn more about our GE mobile Ct scanners.

Renting A Mobile CT Scanner From Catalina Imaging

GE Lightspeed VCT 64 Machine

Planning Your CT Rental

First and foremost is planning. Although we’d love to be able to provide a unit at a moment’s notice, unlike a car rental company, a mobile CT scanner is a very specialized device that requires extensive logistics to move from site to site. The further in advance you plan your CT rental the better.

Our schedule, like most mobile providers, can get filled months in advance. Once the availability is established, verification of the site suitability should be reviewed. This is one area of expertise that Catalina Imaging is highly experienced. You will be working with an experienced CT engineer that can answer in depth questions regarding electrical requirements, trucking, and siting issues.

When you call with your dates and unit requirements we will provide a quote for your review and approval. This will not lock in the rental, it is only a quote. Once we receive your approval, the next step is to create an agreement to secure your unit.

The agreement secures both parties with pricing and timeframe and will be sent for your approval. After your approval we sign it and send you a copy via email. We are now all set for your mobile CT lease.

What to Expect When Your Mobile Imaging Trailer Arrives

As the delivery date arrives, we often arrive a day or two early (at no extra charge) to fully test the unit and fix any issues that may have come up during transport.

The truck driver will put the unit in your specified location, set the trailer up and connect it to power. An engineer from the OEM (original equipment Manufacturer) will come to assist your IT personnel with networking the CT to interface at your site. If you are renting a unit identical to your in-house CT, the OEM engineer may even be able to load your existing protocols (software revision dependent). This will make the transition for your techs seamless.

Ongoing Maintenance

If any issues with the trailer come up during the rental they will be handled by Catalina Imaging in the fastest manner possible. If any issues with the CT scanner arrise they will be handled by the OEM. All of Catalina Imaging’s units are under full service contracts with the OEM. This ensures you get the the fastest repair and best uptime.

End of The Lease

The OEM engineer will schedule with your facility to prep the unit for removal. Your staff will be responsible to remove all patient data. Lastly, you’ll remove all of your items from the unit and perform a final cleaning. A driver will arrive to disconnect the unit from power and pull it from your site.

As a leading mobile CT company, we take pride in our knowledge and even more pride in our customer service. If you have any questions about leasing a unit for your hospital, please don’t hesitate to contact us.