TriStar Health - October 15, 2019

Tracy Brinley and Dr. Robert Mildenhall

Over 60% of patients who visit the ER at TriStar Skyline receive CT scans for injuries or illnesses. But did you know there is a team behind the scenes that is also reviewing these scans for any additional abnormalities beyond the original patient complaint?

When patients are admitted to the emergency room at TriStar Skyline Medical Center, they often need to have CT (or X-Ray) scans to determine the best treatment plan. However, at TriStar Skyline, these scans also play a vital role in helping with the early detection of lung cancer. We went behind the scenes with Tracy Brinley, the Lung Nodule Coordinator at TriStar Skyline to learn more about how she is working to find lung cancers many patients don’t even realize they have.

Every CT scan at TriStar Skyline is sent to the radiology department, where it is examined using a computer-based program called “natural language processing.” This technology is able to pull findings and keywords from the radiology report, and then sends the results to the right department to be examined in more depth. As the lung nodule coordinator, Tracy examines all scans with what she terms “incidental findings” (also called nodules or tumors) in the lungs.

Evaluating these reports is more than simply identifying and flagging a potential tumor. For each patient, Tracy not only records the size and location of the tumor, she also reads through the patient’s ER history, medical history, smoking history and looks through the patient’s family medical history. This investigative work allows her to form a picture of the patient’s health.

If what she finds is of concern, Tracy works directly with the lung specialists on staff at TriStar Skyline to determine the best next step for each patient. Tracy is also a clinical liaison between the patient, their primary care physician, and the physicians on staff. If the patient does not have a primary care physician, Tracy personally shares the findings and helps soothe fears of patients for whom a lung cancer diagnosis comes as a shock. She also helps to schedule an initial appointment with a specialist to make it faster and easier for patients to get the treatment they need.

Looking deeper into patient scans is not something that every hospital offers, but TriStar Skyline is dedicated to finding lung cancer in its early stages, when it is most treatable. In the past two years, Tracy has discovered at least one patient per month who was otherwise unaware of having lung cancer. For many of these patients, the early detection made the difference between a curable condition and something more serious. For Tracy, being able to help even a single patient would make the program worthwhile. We are so grateful for coordinators like Tracy who are dedicated to going above and beyond for each of our patients at TriStar Skyline.

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Backstage at TriStar Skyline


CT scan machine

Interior of a CT scan machine at TriStar Skyline

Man standing and looking at brain x-ray

Man sitting and looking at brain x-ray

Tracy Brinley working on a computer in her office

Hand examining a lung scan report

Tracy Brinley seated in her office

Tracy Brinley and Dr. Robert Mildenhall