Erlanger Health System is moving ahead with the purchase a $4.5 million high-tech scanner that executives hope will serve future cancer and neuroscience centers at the hospital.
A state health planning board approved the hospital's "certificate of need," which is a permit that allows health care institutions to undertake major projects.
The scanner the hospital plans to buy combines images from a PET scan and a CT scan. A CT scan shows tissues and organs inside the body, while a PET scan reveals any abnormal activity that could be happening in those organs.
Erlanger has previously stated it hopes to use the scanner to improve diagnosis and treatment of cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other diseases.
"It enhances patient care in the entire region," Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel said. "And it is really significant that cancer patients are going to have a full spectrum of care now and in the future."
The hospital faced opposition when it presented its application before Tennessee's Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency last week.
As a part of the certificate of need application process, other groups and medical providers were allowed to argue against Erlanger's request. Local provider Plaza Radiology -- which includes Chattanooga Imaging and Cleveland Imaging -- submitted a letter of opposition.
The company claimed that Erlanger's purchase of a PET scanner would create an "excess capacity" of scans when it joins the five other providers who have such scanners in the area.
"The utilization rate of all five scanners has declined over the past several years and the entire patient population in the service area is well-served, including the indigent, underserved population," the letter stated.
But Erlanger has argued that because it pulls from a large geographic area, provides indigent care and has unique services like its Level 1 trauma center and stroke center, a PET scanner at the hospital "will have a negligible impact on the PET utilization at other sites."
The hospital also says an aging population and a spike in insured Tennesseans under the Affordable Care Act will create more demand for PET scans.
Memorial Health Care System -- Erlanger's closest competitor for market share -- did not pose any opposition.
Despite the opposition, the board's approval of the Erlanger's application was unanimous.
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.
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