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The importance of mobile magnetic resonance imaging scanners

Throughout the world, there are a number of reasons that a patient may not have the imaging exam they ought to that could help guide their treatment. Some places do not have a hospital, and therefore do not have a facility to perform the scan at. Other places may have a hospital, but that hospital serves more people than it should, causing any appointments or tests to have a wait-time before a patient can be seen. Still other places have hospitals that may not be overcrowded, but that still do not have space in the facility for a radiology department. So how should hospitals ensure their patients, both near and far, can have the imaging scans they need? The answer is relatively simple for magnetic resonance departments: mobile magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

What is mobile magnetic resonance?

Magnetic resonance imaging scans provide valuable information about patients' bodies to their physicians. The scan can show information about the tissue and organs in a region of interest (ROI) or the whole body in the case of whole-body MRI. In many cases, doctors can observe this and other types of information with more advanced techniques, such as diffusion-weighted MRI and MR spectroscopy. The traditional MRI scanner sits in a large room designed specifically to provide a stable electromagnetic field without interference from outside.

In the case of mobile MR, the scanner often sits inside a trailer that provides a similar design to prevent electromagnetic interference.1 Often, the scanner is the same, and provides similar quality, whether it is being bought for a mobile or stationary MRI suite. The way the truck or trailer containing the scanner for a mobile scanner is built depends entirely on its intended use and the reason for the scanner.

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Why have a mobile MRI scanner?

Facilities may decide to invest in a mobile MRI scanner if they have patients that are otherwise unable to be seen, whether that is because of a lack of availability of appointments or scanners or an inability to travel to the hospital. The mobile system may allow the hospital to complete more scans than it could without.

Increasing appointment availability

Some hospitals are overwhelmed with patients needing to be scanned.2 Even if the hospital already has a scanner, they may not have the availability of appointments to scan all of their referred patients. Without availability, the hospital may need to refer their patients to other facilities who can handle some of the influx.

When an additional scanner is added, more appointments may become available onsite.2 In some cases, the facility may not have space available for a magnetic resonance department, causing them to opt for a mobile scanner. "Mobile" scanners that may be added in this situation may be stationary. This means that the trailer housing the system, and often the computer and scanning room, may not even have wheels.

Increasing scanner access

Patients in remote or less-populated areas may have trouble getting to the hospital for a scan.1,3 One hospital serves patients throughout about half of Finland. The hospital itself is located in the northern part of the country, where some of the patients live in remote areas. Since Finland is so close to the arctic, the country sees some extreme weather. Because of this and the remote location of some of the hospital's patients, Oulu University Hospital decided to add a mobile magnetic resonance scanner. The scanner and it's trailer is taken to the patient for scanning, making it more accessible to people in these remote areas.

The scanner itself is housed in a truck that was adjusted to house an MRI scanner. The trailer has wheels, allowing the scanner to move. When the scanner is in use, the trailer sits on the ground and the wheels lift up. This design is an attempt to reduce the load on the tires when possible, since the weight of the trailer can be excessive. The department's trained staff take the scanner to the patients who need to be scanned. The first mobile system was so helpful that the hospital decided to invest in a second.3

The ability for a radiology department to accommodate more patients is a valuable asset. Mobile magnetic resonance scanners help to aid this process by allowing the hospital to scan more patients throughout the day when they would not normally have appointments. Additionally, the hospital can scan patients who live in more remote areas by driving to the patients. Mobile MRI scanners have become increasingly popular in the United States, with nearly 700 mobile MRI scanners in use by 1987.3,4 Patients and hospitals alike have been benefiting from these systems for years, but how many more patients can be reached?

References:

  1. The ultimate guide to Mobile MRI machines. healthcareweekly.com https://healthcareweekly.com/mobile-mri/. Last accessed August 13, 2019.
  2. Mobile MRI machines offer high tech medical treatment close to home. UpperMichigansSource.com. https://www.uppermichiganssource.com/content/news/UPHS-Bell-mobile-MRI-machines-offer-high-tech-medical-treatment-close-to-home-504069661.html. Last accessed July 17, 2019.
  3. MRI on wheels: This scanner goes where the patient is. The Pulsehttp://newsroom.gehealthcare.com/mri-on-wheels-this-scanner-goes-where-the-patient-is/. Last accessed August 13, 2019.
  4. Mobile MRI - Imaging on Wheels. practicalpainmanagementhttps://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/resources/diagnostic-tests/mobile-mri-imaging-wheels. Last accessed August 13, 2019.