The average lifetime of an MRI system is 11.5 years.1 The scanner's age varies from place to place, based on usage and preference. Replacing an MR scanner can be expensive, costing not only the price of the new scanner, but also the price of all the missed scans due to uninstalling the old device and installing the new one. So, many departments may find it difficult to rationalize the new purchase. Some manufacturers have offered a way to update your scanner without having to completely replace it. This can be done through an update of the software as well as the electronics and hardware, without having to change the magnet.
The manufacturers who offer an updating program, rather than an upgrading program, have protocols in place. Updating is a way to renew the life of your scanner without buying a new magnet. Upgrading refers to replacing your entire scanner with a new one. These protocols may include developing a timeline, discussing what you want out of your updated scanner, and setting up an installation time. The installation time may be significantly reduced by keeping the same magnet for your "new" scanner. This is done by removing the exterior hardware and electronics of the scanner and replacing it with a newer version. This enables software updates as well, since the new hardware will contain newer circuitry.
What are the benefits of updating an MR scanner?2
Although there are many reasons to update your scanner, Dr. John Collins and Dr. Daniel Ginat found that updating their scanners helped with two things. Dr. Collins found that updating his scanner led to a reduction in the number of sequences conducted. Dr. Ginat, on the other hand, found himself spending less time scanning each patient.
Dr. John Collins, MD, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Radiology at the University of Chicago Medicine. Dr. Collins had been conducting a study of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients and following the progression of their disease. After the University of Chicago Medicine updated their scanners through the hardware replacement program offered by their manufacturer, Dr. Collins noticed he had access to newer software. This software included a program that allowed multiple types of contrast images to be generated simultaneously, including T1- and T2-weighted, inversion recovery, and PD contrast images.
Dr. Collins began to develop patient-specific protocols, based on each person's pathology and disease. For many multiple sclerosis patients, these protocols included simultaneous T1- and T2-mapped images. These images may have been more sensitive than their counterpart T2-weighted and FLAIR images, according to Dr. Collins. The physician believes that this scan may be helpful in monitoring disease progression and treatment effectiveness. He reported that this method of scanning may show more lesions than conventional MRI and may provide a better sense of lesion size. Dr. Collins also found that it may have been more efficient to have the different contrast images done all at once, rather than repeating the scan for each contrast. Once the scanner was set up to complete this, the sequence did not take a lot of additional time either.
Dr. Daniel Ginat, MD, is also an Assistant Professor of Radiology at the University of Chicago Medicine who experienced easier scanning with the new software provided in the update. He was studying patients with head and neck tumors and how their disease showed on T1-weighted images. He had read that lesions are more conspicuous on the T1 sequences. However, T1 sequences are frequently louder than other scanning sequences, and additional sequences are often acquired for these patients. Shortening the scan time through the use of this software, Dr. Ginat believes that radiologists may see a reduction in motion artifacts. This is due to the belief that patients are irritable and more likely to move after a longer scan time. In correlation to this, a shorter scan may lead to fewer incomplete exams, making the experience better for patients and increasing throughout.
Doctors Collins and Ginat witnessed a shift in their workflow and the amount of time imaging takes after their scanner was upgraded. As more departments begin updating their devices, their employees may see a similar effect. This may boost their throughput and patient comfort as well and lead to a better healthcare community.
For more information, see the article "Using an efficient, quantitative sequence to aid in patient treatment decisions."
1. "2018 MRI Buyer's Guide." GEHealthcare.com/mr. 2018. Web. 26 March 2019. <https://www.gehealthcare.com//-/media/636f157facc24202aa28f14fbbf1fd35.pdf>
2. Mary Beth Massat. "Using an efficient, quantitative sequence to aid in patient treatment decisions." SIGNA Pulse. Autumn 2017; 38-41. Web. 26 March 2019. <http://www.gesignapulse.com/signapulse/autumn-2017/MobilePagedReplica.action?pm=2&folio=38#pg38>.