12/29/06 — WMH's open unit gives patients imaging without claustrophobia

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WMH's open unit gives patients imaging without claustrophobia

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 29, 2006 1:51 PM

A second MRI machine has been added at Wayne Memorial Hospital that not only produces high-resolution images but promises to be more "patient-friendly."

The six-ton unit expanded the department into a suite that is more accessible to community residents. But moreso, the "open MRI" is expected to draw patients to the local hospital, officials said.

"We're able to accommodate patients who are claustrophobic and have physical challenges due to weight," said Malcolm Hinton, director of imaging.

The hospital's board of directors had long discussed the need for a second unit, which stands for magnetic resonance imaging. The high-resolution images produced by an MRI are used by physicians and technologists to diagnose and evaluate a variety of illnesses and conditions.

Dr. Michael Johnson, representing the hospital's medical staff, told the board, "We have lost people because MRIs are a very small tube. Many people are claustrophobic."

Johnson called the open MRI "a better experience" for patients and added that the addition would eliminate the need for travel to other hospitals that already had the larger units.

In the spring, WayneMRI was formed. The joint venture between the hospital and Wayne Radiologists began its first full month of operation in August, moving into the newly constructed MRI suite. The first MRI unit has since been replaced and the second magnet was added in November.

Both of the units there now are considered high-field MRIs, Hinton said, which means the image quality is very strong and accurate. Wayne Memorial is the only hospital from Raleigh to New Bern with the high-field machines, Hinton said.

So now, it's just a matter of which is more comfortable for the patient.

The latest, open MRI features an opening of nearly 2.3 feet in diameter and almost one foot of free space between a patient's head and the magnet. It also features the shortest magnet available. About four feet long, it allows more than 60 percent of exams to be completed with the patient's head outside the bore, helping to ease claustrophobia.

With two units to choose from, scheduling appointments and staffing the department has become more efficient, Hinton said.

"We used to run until 9 at night," he said. "Now we're only scanning until 6 p.m. so are able to cut back on assigning extra shifts.

"We average about 25 patients a day. That was a busy workload before with just one magnet."

There is also a sense of pride that comes with offering advanced technology. Hinton said not only does the option ease some of patient anxiety, but there has been no compromise on quality of imaging on either machine.

The turnaround time for testing and receiving results is also efficient, Hinton said. On average, a patient is on the machine for about 30 minutes and the radiologist typically interprets the test the same day and forwards results to the physician.