One of the most important diagnostic tools a physician has is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which uses a strong magnetic field with pulses of radio waves to create an image of a part of the body that needs to be examined. An MRI can scan the head, neck, muscles, spine, joints or blood vessels, then produce images radiologists use to look for tumors, organ abnormalities or defects, aneurysms, tendon or ligament damage or a wide array of other medical conditions. A new imaging system at East Jefferson General Hospital can make the process more comfortable for patients.
In the past, physicians depended on closed MRIs — the gold standard for image quality — to get the best picture possible for the most accurate diagnosis.
The term "closed" means the patient slides into a cylinder and stays in the confined space for the duration of the test, which usually takes 25 minutes to an hour. Some patients are too large to fit into the machine, and others find it claustrophobic, so over the years, open MRI machines without sides were developed. The closed systems remained preferable from a diagnostic standpoint because they commonly have magnets that range from 1.5 to 3 tesla (a unit of strength measurements for magnets), yielding better images, and open MRIs usually have magnets with 0.2 or 0.3 tesla. Detailed images with the least amount of false information caused by movements and other variables give the radiologist the clearest view of even the smallest problem areas.
"Some patients just can't fit into the closed system or have a fear of being placed in the cylinder," says Dr. Rafael Figueroa, a radiologist and medical director of the EJGH Imaging Center. "Physicians sent these patients to open systems knowing that it was a lesser-quality image, but it was better than not getting an image at all. That has all changed now that we can offer openness without sacrificing image quality."
A recent breakthrough in open MRI is the Panorama 1.0T High-Field MR made by Philips. By changing the construction of the machine's magnetic field from horizontal to vertical and using a stronger magnet, image quality is now similar to the 1.5 tesla closed MRI. This advancement is a dramatic improvement in quality for the doctor and comfort for the patient.
"The 1.0T High-Field MR we are using is a tremendous leap forward in MRI technology, benefiting every part of the body," Figueroa says. "Combining high-field magnetic strength with the great patient comfort found in open systems has been the holy grail for us. And because there is room for patients' positioning, I even have the ability to align the center of the magnet with previously hard-to-scan areas such as the elbows, arms and wrists."
In the open system patients are positioned in front of a window so they can focus attention on other things in the room and are more likely to remain motionless instead of fidgeting during the test, when even slight movements can disrupt the image and make it necessary to rescan the area.
"As a radiologist I am excited because, clinically, it is leaps and bounds better than previous versions of this technology, and because it provides an overall superior patient experience," Figueroa says.