PLATTEVILLE — Southwest Health Center completed installation in late July of a new magnetic resonance imaging machine that combines greater patient comfort with enhanced ability to capture the high-definition images doctors and their patients need for fast, accurate diagnosis.
“The new MRI unit increases our efficiency and allows us greater flexibility to schedule procedures when it’s convenient for our patients,” said Jim Andersen, M.D., SHC’s medical director of imaging services. “The patient friendly design of the new system also offers a greatly improved patient experience.”
According to Andersen, the large bore design more easily accommodates patients in pain, elderly patients, large and obese patients and those with claustrophobia. “Overall, the technology allows us to serve more people, more comfortably with fewer repeat or interrupted procedures,” he said.
SHC’s new Siemens Magnetom Aera MRI features a bore opening nearly 2½ feet in diameter — larger than other hospital-based MRI units — to boost patient comfort in what is traditionally an uncomfortable exam.
The Aera also offers a magnet design shorter than other machines which allows the majority of exams to be completed with only the targeted anatomy inside the machine’s bore, thereby greatly easing feelings of claustrophobia. In those instances when the patient’s head must enter the Aera’s bore, the increased width provides extra free space.
With two-thirds of American adults overweight, health care providers are challenged to accommodate larger patients with machines designed for people who weigh less. Before the large-bore technology, larger patients had studies done on open MRI systems with low-field magnets, limiting the usefulness of the diagnostic images obtained. With MRIs, the strength of a magnet is measured in units of Tesla with the higher the number the greater the strength. SHC’s new high-field scanner features a 1.5 Tesla magnet, providing clear images with greater detail in less time than low-field scanners.
Claustrophobia presents further challenges as sedation adds to patients’ inconvenience and to the time it takes to perform an exam. The larger, shorter bore now makes procedures easier for claustrophobic patients.
To make the experience more patient-friendly, technologists can now pipe in music during procedures directly into speakers in the MRI using patients’ own personal music devices, such as iPods.
SHC previously relied on a mobile MRI service provided two days per week on a tractor–trailer parked outside the facility. The new fixed machine is now installed inside the hospital in its own MRI suite designed and built especially for the unit when the hospital facility was constructed in 2004.
“We are very proud to offer this advanced MRI technology to our patients,” said SHC Chief Executive Officer Dan Rohrbach. “I commend our medical staff and board of directors who believe the people of southwest Wisconsin deserve the same access to innovative technology and potentially life-saving exams as people living in Dubuque or Madison. Today, we offer all that and more.”
The Health Center’s new MRI unit arrives shortly after its new CT scanner installed early this summer. CT scans are a specialized type of X-ray technology that produces images in cross-sections or “slices.” MRI scanning uses a large magnet and radio waves to create images; no x-rays or any type of ionizing radiation is used in an MRI exam. CT scans are better used for images of bones and are most often used to examine the skull, sinuses, chest, abdomen and pelvis. MRI scans are useful for examining the soft tissues of the body.
To celebrate the advanced capabilities that the two major pieces of high-tech medical imaging equipment provide, SHC’s Radiology Department is planning a public open house to be held Wednesday, Aug. 29 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The event is free and open to everyone and will feature tours, information, giveaways, door prizes, food and refreshments.