September 10th, 2001

Construction is under way at Great River Medical Center to add an “open” magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) unit and a second computed tomography (CT) scanner. Space within the hospital’s Diagnostic Imaging Department is being renovated to accommodate the second CT scanner and a 680-square foot expansion to the existing MRI suite is being built for the open MRI unit.

“Patient volumes and needs were the driving forces in our decision to add both of these units to our imaging capabilities,” said Mark Richardson, president and CEO, Great River Medical Center. “In recent years, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in our outpatient volumes, particularly in the diagnostic imaging area. We also felt a need to address the comments we were receiving from patients who had difficulty with claustrophobia and could not remain inside the enclosed space of our traditional MRI unit for any length of time. Adding a second CT scanner and an open MRI to complement our closed unit should meet these needs.”

The new MRI unit is open on all four sides allowing for greater patient comfort and easy access. The unit is manufactured by Hitachi Medical Systems America Inc., one of the industry’s earliest developers and market leaders of the open MRI concept.

“For several years, we’ve looked at open MRI to better accommodate patients who have trouble with enclosed spaces. Until recently, we were not satisfied with the image quality and length of time to perform a test with the open units when compared to a closed MRI unit,” said Jay Mazurowski, director, Diagnostic Imaging Department. “Now, the technology has been developed to the point that the image quality and length of procedure times with open MRI are very comparable to that of closed units.”

Open MRI also provides surgeons with the ability to perform surgical procedures while their patients are in the MRI unit. This surgical technique is a growing trend in the health-care field.

“The open-air design of the unit gives the surgeon easier access to the patient so an image of the surgical field can be obtained during a procedure without having to suspend the operation and transport the patient to another location for the scan,” Mazurowski said. “The new MRI suite will have the capabilities of a regular operating room so surgeons may perform MRI-assisted procedures if desired.”

MRI does not use X-rays to create images. Instead, it combines magnetic fields with radio waves and uses specially designed computers to produce detailed three-dimensional images of internal body structures, including muscle, bone, blood vessels, nerves, organs and tumor tissue.

The hospital’s new CT scanner, which is manufactured by Marconi Medical Systems, uses advanced “multislice” technology to provide image quality that is superior to most other CT systems. In addition, the unit’s imaging device scans 16 times faster than conventional CT units.

“Conventional CT requires that patients hold their breath and remain completely still during the scan, which makes it very difficult to obtain an accurate image of some patients, particularly pediatric and geriatric patients,” Mazurowski said. “Because our new CT will scan so quickly, these patients will have access to technology that could be vital for timely and accurate diagnosis. This speed is especially useful for trauma patients because treatment time can be the difference between life and death. Our new CT unit will complete most trauma scans in about 30 seconds. It also can capture images of the heart between beats.”

CT technology allows clinicians to see very thin cross-sections – or slices – of the anatomy; the thinner the slice, the better the resolution. The new CT scanner being installed at Great River Medical Center can capture image slices that allow sub-millimeter objects to be seen in all imaging planes with unprecedented resolution.

Besides addressing the volume and accessibility issues, the new CT and MRI units will add redundancy to the hospital’s imaging capabilities.

“Our existing MRI and CT units have proven to be very reliable and dependable but, as with any highly sophisticated piece of equipment, we have occasionally had to take them out of service temporarily for repairs and maintenance,” Mazurowski said. “In those cases, we sometimes have to reschedule patient appointments. Now, with second units to fall back on for both CT and MRI, we can complete most, if not all, of our scheduled patients if one of our units is down for repairs.”

The additional CT scanner should be installed and operational by mid-October while the open MRI unit is scheduled to be available for use in early December. A physician referral is required for both CT and MRI scans. For more information, please call Great River Medical Center’s Diagnostic Imaging Department at (319) 768-4800.