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VA Maryland Health Care System


Health Watch Spring 2017

Photo of open MRI.

Open MRI provides a more comfortable experience for Veteran patients

If you have ever had a traditional MRI done, chances are it wasn't exactly a fun experience. MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging, and it's a medical procedure that involves having to lie down on a long table that slides into a tunnel-like enclosure. Once inside, the machine photographs the inside of the body. MRI images serve as a useful tool for doctors because it shows more than an x-ray and it can help detect tumors, internal bleeding, internal injuries and more. The downside? While an x-ray takes just a few minutes, an MRI takes much longer.

"A standard MRI encloses the patient in a tunnel for the entire 45 minutes it takes to complete a scan. That can be a harrowing experience for anyone to go through," explains Eliot Sigel, MD, chief of Imaging Services at the VA Maryland Health Care System. "For Veterans especially, it can be a real challenge."

One in ten Veterans experiences claustrophobia. Even those who aren't claustrophobic can panic or struggle while enclosed in an MRI machine. Larger-sized patients simply may not fit in the machine.

Enter new technology, in the form of an Open MRI. Until recently, the VA Maryland Health Care System had to send Veterans who couldn't tolerate a standard MRI to a non-VA facility in the community for an Open MRI. It was costly and many times inconvenient for the Veteran. The health care system invested in its own Open MRI machine in 2016, which is in a state-of-the art MRI suite at the Perry Point VA Medical Center.

"Now we can perform MRI scans on any Veteran, for any reason, regardless of their personal situation," says Siegel, noting that the new Open MRI suite has helped to further decrease patient wait times because his team does not have to rely on other facilities to perform the test.

Kim Greco, MRI technologist with the VA Maryland Health Care System, saw the challenges inherent with the traditional MRI.

"The opening of a closed MRI is about 2 feet wide," she explains. "This was a source of anxiety for claustrophobic patients. There was also very limited room inside the MRI tunnel and some patients felt constricted."

The new Open MRI resolves those issues. "The sides of the MRI are open, so on most studies the patient can turn their head to the side to have a clear view. This makes them feel more at ease and comfortable," she says. "The MRI can also accommodate larger patients in a comfortable position due to a wider patient table."

Veterans have been pleased with being able to get an Open MRI done right at Perry Point, Greco says, noting that they can take advantage of the shuttle service provided from the Baltimore VA Medical Center to get there.

If the thought of an MRI test with the new Open MRI still doesn't calm your nerves completely, let your MRI tech know.

"If a patient still is a little nervous with the MRI test, we can offer them a sleep mask and music, and everyone is provided with an emergency ball, a simple squeeze alerts the technician." Greco says. "We try to accommodate their needs and fears."

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