[caption id="attachment_230047" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] ChristianaCare has planned to add ultrasound therapy that would create new avenues to treat patients with tremors from Parkinson’s disease. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
NEWARK — ChristianaCare is seeking to launch a $2.2 million ultrasound therapy that would create new avenues to treat patients with tremors from Parkinson’s disease.Plans filed with the state Health Resources Board show that ChristianaCare plans on buying MR-guided ultrasound equipment and complete slight renovations to its existing MRI room at its Newark campus as well as training its staff. The Health Resources Board approved the public review application on Dec. 14.The therapy includes using an MR machine to target the brain’s tremor center to create heat and destroy cells that cause tremors. ChristianaCare estimated the equipment would be delivered in February. The first patient procedure is targeted for April.“We can use ultrasound technology, essentially taking 1,000 ultrasound beams directed at one area of the brain to heat up that area and essentially kill the cells that are causing the tremors,” said Justin Martello, Parkinson's and movement disorders director at ChristianaCare Neurology Specialists during the Health Resources Board meeting. “This is done without any incision. It is done outpatient, and you see the effects in real time as you do the procedure.”Central tremors are one of the most common movement disorders that can impact 1% of the United States population or about 5% of patients over the age of 60. It’s common with Parkinson's disease patients and mostly impacts fine motor abilities, like holding a cup of coffee.MR-guided ultrasound equipment is a relatively new treatment and currently is offered in major hospitals in Baltimore and Philadelphia. Martello, who developed Delaware’s first and only comprehensive Parkinson's disease program, also noted that the two treatment options available — medication and deep brain stimulation surgery — tend to be effective for a certain period of time.“Medicines can have their own side effects and it’s not a good option for patients with advanced tremor options… surgery into the deep areas of the brain is pretty invasive and costly,” he said. “[With ultrasound], it’s meant to be a one-time procedure, but for essential tremor it is approved to be done on both sides in a time frame separated by nine months.”Martello also noted that reports from the Food and Drug Administration indicate that the ultrasound treatment lasts for at least five years. However, the treatment has a shorter effectiveness window between weeks and months for some patients.With the approval from state regulators, ChristianaCare will be the only Delaware facility to offer ultrasound-guided tremor treatment. The closest other facility is Penn Medicine, which is 50 miles away.ChristianaCare projects that most of the $2.2 million will be spent on buying the equipment, although some money will be spent on reconfiguring a room at the Newark Campus. The entire cost would be funded with cash.The MR-guided ultrasound therapy is covered by Medicaid and many insurance plans, including 80% of plans offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield, including Delaware patients. It’s also projected to bring in $1.1 million in revenue by treating 81 patients in the first year. On the flip side, operating costs are estimated at $772,732 for that year.However, with Delaware’s population growing older, Martello believes the therapy would open new doors for affordable health care in the First State. The ultrasound therapy is estimated to be $27,000 less than the surgery, and about 500 Delawarean patients diagnosed with central tremor would be eligible for the treatment.“Right now, myself and my partner are the only movement disorder-trained specialists in Delaware. As a part of Medicare data from 2021, I was the second busiest doctor in the country to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease and central tremor,” he said. “We definitely have a lot of patients living and coming to retire in Delaware who are suffering from these conditions.”
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