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Tiny cameras to help AHN doctors evaluate damaged knees

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The mi-eye2 device.

Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network are exploring handheld diagnostic technology that could one day reduce the need for MRI in diagnosing some knee injuries, such as meniscal tears.

The health care networks on Tuesday announced a collaboration with medical device company Trice Medical to evaluate a new imaging tool called mi-eye, which allows doctors to view knee joints from their offices.

The arthroscopic device provides the ability to look inside joints for signs of wear.

“I think in the select patient, this definitely has a role to play, and it will save not only time but money to the system,” said Dr. Sam Akhavan, an AHN orthopedic surgeon who is participating in the study. “Traditionally, with joint injuries, the diagnostic process can span several weeks, often including an in-office physical exam, followed by an MRI, and then a follow-up consultation and surgery if needed.”

The study will look at the effectiveness of using the device to diagnose meniscal tears on a patient’s initial visit, possibly saving time and money.

Akhavan has enrolled six patients and expects to work with 100 before issuing a final analysis.

“I don’t think it’s going to altogether replace MRI, but in the right patient, when you diagnosis a meniscal tear, you can go right to surgery,” he said.

The handheld device has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The device works by inserting a retractable needle into the patient’s knee. Once the needle is inserted, it retracts and a camera broadcasts live images to doctors.

There are about 20 million office visits a year for knee problems, according to Trice Medical. Meniscal tears are the most common.

Experts will examine the device’s capability to help in surgical planning, particularly for people needing knee replacements. The mi-eye 2 is developer Trice Medical’s second, next-generation device.

Some patients complain that MRI machines make them feel claustrophobic.

Moreover, “inconclusive or false readings can significantly lengthen the time from diagnosis to recovery. When we can be more efficient and precise in our operations, it means that our patients experience quicker and better outcomes so that they can get back to their daily lives,” said Dr. Timothy Sauber, an AHN orthopedic surgeon and study investigator.

The partnership study is supported by Highmark Health’s VITAL (Verification of Innovation by Testing, Analysis and Learning) Innovation Program.

“VITAL’s mission is to leverage Highmark Health’s position as one of the largest integrated health care delivery and financing systems in the nation in order to accelerate the pace with which novel technologies and services are made available to the public,” Highmark Health CEO David Holmberg said in a press release. “Our members and patients will be afforded access to safe new technologies that increase the quality of care and create positive patient outcomes without undue financial burden.”

Trice Medical is located in King of Prussia.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, [email protected] or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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