Planmeca Viso G7 supports two hospital ships along west Africa coast

Finnish manufacturer of dental equipment Planmeca imaging devices are the choice of charity organisation Mercy Ships, which offers healthcare services on two hospital ships — Africa Mercy which has been in operation since 2007 and the brand-new Global Mercy — along the west African coast. Planmeca Viso G7 imaging device was installed on Global Mercy to aid in maxillofacial operations and dental treatments.

In 2023, Global Mercy was designed and built to be used as a floating hospital to accommodate volunteer staff working onboard

Both ships offer locals a range of health care services they would otherwise have no access to, including eye surgery, general surgical procedures, jaw and facial surgery, dental procedures, and orthopaedic surgery. Thus, by visiting coastal cities, the two hospital ships can reach a large local population in African low- and middle-income countries.   

Last year, the volunteers working on Africa Mercy performed over 3,200 surgical procedures. On the new Global Mercy, there are four intensive care units, 102 surgical beds and a crew of 450–600 volunteers on board. The volunteers are also offering training programmes for local health care professionals to support their work.

Both hospital ships utilise Planmeca imaging devices and software for the assessment and planning of maxillofacial and dental treatments

While Africa Mercy has a Planmeca ProMax 3D max cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) unit and a Planmeca ProOne panoramic imaging unit installed onboard, the new Global Mercy is equipped with a brand new Planmeca Viso G7 CBCT unit, capable of both 3D and 2D imaging. Later this year, both Planmeca units on Africa Mercy will also be replaced with a Planmeca Viso G7.

Maxillofacial imaging at low patient doses

Planmeca Viso G7 offers imaging capabilities and large volume sizes up to a full skull. For Mercy Ships, being able to capture images of the entire skull for maxillofacial surgery assessment and treatment planning was said to be the reason to acquire Planmeca Viso G7.

“We are mostly treating patients with mandibular and maxillary tumours, which usually arise from the teeth and the enamel. We also often see ameloblastomas and patients with injuries in their temporomandibular joints,” said Martha Henderson, the radiology lead at Mercy Ships.

Taking an X-ray with Planmeca Viso G7 is the first step in maxillofacial surgeries performed onboard by the volunteer staff. Henderson herself has been working on Mercy Ships more or less regularly since 2012, capturing X-rays for diagnosis and treatment planning.

“With Planmeca Viso G7, we are able to visualise the pathology and help our maxillofacial surgeons know where to operate and how to reconstruct a patient’s face. In addition, post-op images help check bone plates or screws, which have been added during the surgery. This allows us to operate safely,” Henderson added.

X-ray images of a patient were captured of a patient with Planmeca Viso G7 (Image: Mercy Ships)

Besides large volume sizes, another feature that affected the decision to acquire Planmeca Viso G7 was the unit’s ability to capture both 3D and 2D images — a feature vital at a clinic where space is limited.

“The ability to have combined functions of the OPG, the bitewing and 3D in one unit has been a solution for us,” she said.

Low dose imaging options of Planmeca imaging units also convinced the radiology team working on board. Henderson added that it is their duty of care to keep the patient doses as low as possible.

“CBCT imaging allows visualising the bone detail as well as seeing the roots of the teeth and where the mandibular nerve is running. Compared to other imaging modalities, it also offers lower patient doses. With the Planmeca Ultra Low Dose imaging protocol of our Planmeca unit, we are able to keep our patient doses really low whilst maintaining the high image quality,” she said.

Support for installation and technical team onboard

The installation of Planmeca products is usually performed by the local Planmeca distributor or office. Should any questions or issues arise in the installation or later with the field service, the local team is supported by their after sales department. In some complex cases, however, the Planmeca after sales personnel can take care of the entire installation itself as well.

This was the case for the Planmeca Viso G7 installation on Global Mercy, as the operating environment of a ship posed unique challenges to the clinical equipment. As Planmeca senior technical product specialist Aku Aalto had been involved in the installation of Planmeca ProMax 3D Max on Africa Mercy back in 2011, Aalto and technical product specialist Aki Haapala prepared installation plan a few months before the actual installation, solving some of the challenges they would face. For example, it was necessary to build and install a custom-made steel backing plate in the ship structures for Planmeca Viso G7, since the ship has no concrete walls or floors.

Haapala and Aalto took care of the installation of Planmeca Viso G7 on Global Mercy

Aalto and Haapala also trained members of the technical team for field service, since the ship is docked in a port city for 10 months every year and it is often challenging to get technical support in developing countries. Senior biomedical technician Guido Kortleven and biomedical technician Deborah Nutsugah of the Mercy Ships team later travelled to Finland for in-depth hands-on training.

“Because the medical staff has limited time in one country, the pressure to keep the uptime [is] big. Therefore, our technical team has been building up our knowledge about the equipment we have onboard so we can keep the machines up and running,” Kortleven said.

“We were impressed by the openness and willingness of Planmeca to share knowledge about the Planmeca Viso G7 so that we can make the best use of it and keep the device working. Now, if something goes wrong, I know where to start,” he added.

Kortleven, Nutsugah and Henderson got to know Planmeca Viso® G7 in a hands-on training in Helsinki, Finland

Images: Planmeca