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MRI Gets Patient-Friendlier, But Not Enough

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Earlier this week, Diagnostic Imaging explored several ways in which MRI machines are becoming more patient-friendly. This comes on the heels, however, of a PLoS ONE research article that indicates they still have a way to go.

Diagnostic Imaging cited three specific improvements:

  • Extremity scanners, which scan ankles, wrists, and other parts of extremities more efficiently (and more cheaply) than running a patient’s full body into a conventional MRI machine.
  • The Philips Ambient Experience scanner system, which soothes children by projecting relaxing scenes and colors on the walls and using an open scanner—essentially two big doughnuts, one above the other, leaving a wide rectangular space for the patient in between.
  • Larger bore sizes—70 cm instead of 55 or 60 cm. Larger-bore and open machines once provided lower-quality images, but more-powerful magnets have alleviated that problem.

These upgrades help, but a parallel development is causing increasing problems for MRI and other forms of scanning: America’s increasing rate of obesity. Wider bores or open scanners can help, but even they don’t offer enough room for some patients. And the table capacity of many machines tops out at 350 pounds.

A DOTmed report addresses ways in which the imaging industry is addressing those concerns. But, as it points out, new machines may be on the market, but most hospitals and clinics still use older models and aren’t enthused about spending millions of dollars to upgrade.

And, as the PLoS One study indicates, even the Philips open scanner mentioned in the Diagnostic Imaging article creates feelings of claustrophobia in a surprisingly large number of patients. The study did involve patients that were at fairly high risk of claustrophobia, but even the open scanner induced “claustrophobic events” in more than 25 percent of those studied.

What’s the solution? Um … can new technology outpace America’s expanding waistlines? Doubtful. Can the scanner experience be made less claustrophobic? Somewhat, but you still  have to have big magnets in close proximity to the patient’s body.

Of these three articles, only one addresses (and only tangentially) what may be the most common patient complaint about MRI: the noise. The PLoS ONE study mentions it as contributing to claustrophobia, but it unnerves a lot of patients in ways that have nothing to do with claustrophobia. A muffler might make MRI a lot friendlier to a lot of patients.

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Related seminar: Musculoskeletal MRI

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