Diagnostic Imaging
Phone: 360-814-8208

Told you need a test? A consumer guide to diagnostics

Diagnostic imaging at Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon, WAAs your physician seeks to diagnose your condition – from sports injuries to heart disease – your doctor may send you for an MRI, a CT scan or to nuclear medicine. The following is a primer on the variety of services available at Skagit Valley Hospital to help consumers better understand what these tests are, what to expect, how long they take and other key information to prepare patients for their visit. Click on any of the tests in the list below to read more information.

Also, find out how to best prepare for your diagnostic test.

CT or CAT Scan
Nuclear Medicine

CT or CAT Scan

CAT Scan at Skagit Valley Hospital, Mount Vernon, WAName of equipment or test: Computerized Tomography, CT or CAT Scan. An X-ray tube rotates around the body yielding images of thin “slices” of the body.

Primary uses: Shows detailed, three-dimensional images of body structures, such as organs or bones. Used in simple and traumatic studies of the chest, abdomen, pelvis, head, extremities, sinuses and blood vessels. Can be used for biopsies, to see kidney stones, tumors or appendicitis.

What patients should know:

  • The CT scanner is described like a large doughnut tipped on its side. The patient lies down on a narrow bed or platform, which slowly moves through the hole in the machine. Nothing touches the patient and although it is enclosed it is a very thin donut. Even the most claustrophobic patients can endure a simple CT Scan. 
  • Performed for outpatients and inpatients at Skagit Valley Hospital in the Diagnostic Imaging Department.
  • The ordering physician will determine if an intravenous (IV) injection of Iodine Contrast is necessary. This contrast is used to "highlight" veins and arteries so physicians can visualize organs in the body. The Iodine Contrast is safe and the injection may make the patient feel warm.
  • Depending on the study, the patient may have to drink a contrast medium, which requires arrival up to an hour before the test. The oral contrast, blended with soda, water or juice, may have a slightly bitter taste.
  • The actual scan time is 20 to 60 seconds. The average visit that does not require oral contrast takes 15 to 20 minutes, including completion of paperwork.
  • If your infant or small child is having a CT scan, you may be allowed to stay with your child during the test. If so, you will be asked to wear a lead apron to shield you from exposure to X-rays. 

More than 1,200 scans are performed monthly in the Skagit Valley Hospital CT Suite. Scheduled exams are offered 12 hours a day Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. Emergent scans are performed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Preparing for your test: Find out how to prepare for your CT Scan.

Contact us: To make an appointment, call 360-814-8208. 


Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI at Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon, WAName of equipment or test: Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI

Primary uses: The MRI is a diagnostic exam for imaging many types of soft tissue including the brain, heart, abdomen, vascular system and the skeletal system. The test can aid in the detection of heart disease, heart attack, cancer, stroke, vascular disease, multiple sclerosis, tumors, infections and sports injuries. MRI provides some of the most detailed views of the human body available today for diagnosing injuries and illness. 

What patients should know:

  • No X-rays are used in this procedure. MRI uses magnetic fields, radio waves and complex computer processing to produces images. 
  • For safety reasons everyone is carefully screened for any metal objects before entering the room.  Individuals with cardiac pacemakers or brain aneurysm clips cannot safely have the exam.
  • Patients are asked to lay on their back on a cushioned table and stay still.
  • The technologist will leave the room during the exam, communicating with the patient using an intercom.
  • A contrast material may be used depending on the part of the body to be examined.
  • The table will move into the cylinder that runs through a powerful magnet far enough to examine the required part of the body.
  • The MRI can be loud so patients are offered earplugs or headphones to listen to music.
  • The average test takes 20 minutes.
  • A radiologist will analyze the images and provide a report to the referring physician.

Details:  Exams are offered from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and staff is on call around the clock. Skagit Valley Hospital is one of four national training sites for Siemens Medical Systems, Inc., the manufacturer of both MRI units at Skagit Valley Hospital.

Preparing for your test: Find out how to prepare for your MRI.

Contact us: To make an appointment, call 360-814-8208.


Mammogram, Mount Vernon, WAName of equipment or test: Mammography

Primary uses: Mammography is a specific type of imaging that uses a low-dose x-ray system for examination of the breasts. Most medical experts agree that successful treatment of breast cancer often is linked to early diagnosis. Mammography plays a central part in early detection of breast cancers because it can show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them.

What patients should know:

  • The American Cancer Society and many other medical organizations recommend yearly mammograms for all women over 40.
  • Mammography is offered at the Breast Care Center, located just north of Skagit Valley Hospital at 1320 E. Division St., offers complete breast health services in Mount Vernon. It is a division of Skagit Digital Imaging, a partnership of Skagit Valley Hospital, and Skagit Radiology, Inc.
  • Services include screening and diagnostic mammograms, stereotactic breast needle biopsy, ductograms, and preoperative needle localization. Diagnostic breast ultrasound; as well as ultrasound-guided procedures, including: core needle biopsy, cyst aspiration, and fine needle aspiration; are performed on-site.
  • Patients should not wear deodorant, talcum powder, or lotion under your arms or on your breasts on the day of the exam.
  • Before the examination, patients are asked to remove all jewelry and clothing above the waist and will be given a gown or loose-fitting material that opens in the front.
  • All screening mammogram films are analyzed using a computer-aided detection (CAD) system that is correlated with the radiologist findings. CAD analysis improves detection of early cancers by as much as 20%.

Preparing for you test: Find out how to prepare for your mammogram.

Contact us: For more information about the Breast Care Center or to schedule an exam, call 360-424-9607 or 888-371-2812.

Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear Medicine at Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon, WAName of equipment or test: Nuclear medicine is a safe and painless imaging technology, which uses very small amounts of specially formulated radioactive materials. Nuclear medicine provides physicians information about medical problems based on how parts of the body function as differing from x-ray, which demonstrates a body’s appearance (or structure).

Primary uses: Using small “tracer” amounts of radioactive material, nuclear medicine is useful for many medical problems including cancer, to detect and determine the extent of the disease; bone scans for detecting fractures, bone infection and loosening of joint prosthesis; heart scans to predict a patient’s risk for having an acute heart attack and heart function; lung scans to look for pulmonary embolus; gallbladder scans to detect cholecystitis and kidney scans to show function and to detect renal artery hypertension.

What patients should know:

  • Patients will be given the radioactive material intravenously.
  • The patient will lie on a table, which then moves into position in relation to the camera. The newest camera at Skagit Valley Hospital has two heads that scan both sides of the body at once, reducing the scan time.
  • Patient must hold still for the 30 to 60 minutes needed to detect the images.
  • The amount of radioactivity given poses no risk for the patient or people near the patient.

Preparing for your test: Find out how to prepare for your nuclear medicine test.

Contact us: To make an appointment, call 360-814-8208.


PET/CT at Skagit Valley Hospital Regional Cancer Care Center in Mount Vernon, WAName of equipment or test: Positron Emission Tomography or PET scan plus Computerized Tomography, CT or CAT Scan.

Primary uses: The latest in diagnostic imaging, PET/CT is a powerful diagnostic tool that renders answers that no other imaging tests can provide, enabling physicians to more accurately diagnose and identify disease. One test provides PET and CT information separately and in a fused image combining both physiological and anatomical information. This allows convenience for the patient and provides maximum information to the physician.

PET produces pictures of the body’s biological functions. PET is able to capture chemical and physiological changes related to metabolism rather than gross anatomy or structure, which is obtained with CT and MRI. PET can also be used to determine if treatment is working effectively.

Since initial stages of disease are biochemical in nature and affect function, PET can save time and cut costs in diagnosis and treatment. PET scanning is primarily used in Oncology for accurate diagnosis and staging of cancer, checking for tumor recurrence and to monitor cancer therapy.  Information gained by the use of PET can be used to determine what combination of surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy is most likely to be successful in managing the disease. PET is also commonly used in the diagnosis of neurology and cardiac related diseases.

What patients should know:

  • The Radioactive tracer used in the exam is manufactured specifically for the patient having the exam. If for any reason the patient is not able to meet the scheduled exam time it is very important to notify the hospital the day before the exam.
  • Patients will be asked not to eat or drink anything four to six hours before an exam.
  • Patients then wait for about 30 minutes until the compound distributes throughout the body and is processed by the organ is being evaluated.
  • The radiation exposure is safe.
  • During the exam, patients lay on a scanner table, which moves through the scanner to detect and record signals from the tracers. The CT portion takes less than two minutes. The PET exam requires 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Total time for registration and testing is 90 minutes.

Preparing for your test: Find out how to prepare for your PET or CT Scan.

Contact us: To make an appointment, call 360-814-8208.


Ultrasound at Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon, WAName of equipment or test: Ultrasound

Primary uses: This imaging tool uses high frequency sound waves and their echoes to display a two-dimensional image of soft tissue in the body. Most frequently used as a diagnostic tool, it is often used to view organs such as the liver and spleen, arteries, veins, legs, arms and the neck. Ultrasound can measure the flow of blood through the kidneys and allow physicians to see kidney stones. Ultrasound is also commonly used on pregnant women to check the baby’s size, development and position and is also used to help guide needles for biopsies.

What patients should know:

  • Test time can range from five minutes to more than one hour, depending on the level of detail.
  • The portable equipment can be used for inpatients and outpatients.
  • Some studies require preparation
  • Some studies will require the patient to disrobe.
  • Gel will be applied to the skin so the probe can pass easily over the skin and helps pass sound waves into the body.
  • In some exams, the probe is inserted into the body.

About 60 ultrasound exams are performed daily.

Preparing for your test: Find out how to prepare for your ultrasound.

Contact us: To make an appointment, call 360-814-8208.


Name of equipment or test: X-ray

Primary uses: Using high-energy electromagnetic waves, X-rays produce still images of bones and joints to assist physicians in diagnosing breaks or abnormalities. When used in conjunction with a fluoroscope, doctors can trace the movement of contrast media through the joints and organs.

What patients should know:

  • Patients will be asked to hold still and hold their breath while an X-ray is taken.
  • The length of the test depends on the procedure performed, with fluoroscopy taking longer.
  • Most X-ray exams are not scheduled and wait times vary depending upon the number of patients arriving at any one time.
  • For some exams, including those of the gastrointestinal system, patients will be asked to not consume food or beverages for a period of time before the exam.
  • Remember to inform the technologist if there is a possibility that you could be pregnant prior to any x-ray exam.

Details: A range of 50 to 120 X-ray exams are performed daily at Skagit Valley Hospital. “We’re there to serve you and get the best pictures to the doctor,” said Jason Plumb, RT(R)  “We’re the supporting cast to see what’s going on in the body.”

Preparing for your test: Find out how to prepare for you X-ray.

Contact us: Appointments are not required. For more information, call 814-8208.

Preparing for a diagnostic test

  • Follow the instructions provided by your physician, such as when to eat or drink.
  • If you have an appointment, arrive 15 minutes before your appointment to check in and fill out paperwork.
  • Be aware that the schedule may be adjusted if the equipment is in use for an emergency case. Staff will communicate with you when there are delays.
  • For some nuclear medicine tests, patients will come to the hospital to receive an injection, then will have a period of time to wait for the tracer to work through the body before the test. The patient will be given a time to return to the registration area to check in.
  • If you are aware of any allergies to contrast or suspect that you may be pregnant, inform the technologist prior to the exam.

When you come to Skagit Valley Hospital for a diagnostic test, be sure to bring the following items for maximum efficiency:

  • Doctor’s order form
  • Insurance card
  • If it is a family member who cannot sign their name, bring a Power of Attorney

A few details:

  • STAT means that the patient will be seen and films will be read that day, it does not mean that results will be given immediately
  • If you have a doctor’s appointment and want to take the films with you, the films must first be read. Communicate with the technologists if a quick turnaround is needed. If anyone besides the patient plans to pick up the films, they must have a written note granting permission.