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MRI Goes To War, Though Not Anytime Soon

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Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is pushing to send two MRI machines to Afghanistan to help diagnosis brain damage in soldiers exposed by explosions. But military medical leaders say they think MRI is more a research tool and don’t see any urgency about getting it to the battlefield.

As a result, it’s likely to be August at the earliest before the machines reach Afghanistan.

Mullen requested in November that MRI machines be sent to the battlefield. “I’ve actually made this a very high priority,” he told USA Today for a story published last week.

The newspaper said that during the worst of the fighting in Afghanistan last year, more than 300 U.S. troops received mild traumatic brain injuries or concussions every month. MRI machines would allow doctors to more accurately assess such damage and thus determine when soldiers have recovered enough to return to combat duty. MRI can often detect tiny brain injuries caused by blast damage that are too small to show up on CT scans.

MRI can also precisely diagnose musculoskeletal injuries, which are among the most common in combat.

However, USA Today quoted the Army’s surgeon general, Lieutenant General Eric Schoomaker, as saying that MRI is a helpful tool in battlefield care, but not essential for diagnosis. And the Navy’s surgeon general, Vice Admiral Adam Robinson, said MRI is primarily a research tool.

Therefore, the Navy says, because there is no urgent demand, the two MRI machines must be acquired through competitive bidding rather than immediate purchase. The length of that process means that the machines will reach Afghanistan no earlier than August—nine months after Mullen’s request.

If the military medical authorities had declared the need to be urgent, the machines could have been purchased outright, without competitive bidding, and would have been in Afghanistan within weeks.

Incidentally, the newspaper says the Navy expects to pay $9 million for the machines; it doesn’t specify whether that’s for one machine or both. That’s nearly three times the going rate for a 3 tesla MRI machine. Perhaps the rest of the money will go for shipping costs?

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One Response to “MRI Goes To War, Though Not Anytime Soon”

  1. Radiology Daily»AlertArchive » ‘High Priority’ Scanners Gone From War Zone on January 22nd, 2014 at 10:18 am

    […] Getting the scanners to the war zone was “a very high priority” for retired Admiral Mike Mullen. He was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—the nation’s highest-ranking military officer—when he pushed for their deployment in 2011, as we reported at the time. […]