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VA Maryland Health Care System


Maryland’s Veterans Gain Access to Open MRI

Clinician assisting a patient in an open MRI

VA Maryland Health Care System Aquires New Equipment

Veterans served by the VA Maryland Health Care System now have available to them the latest in advanced imaging technology with a new open Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) suite at the Perry Point VA Medical Center.

"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 experience claustrophobia. Even those who aren’t claustrophobic can panic or struggle while enclosed in an MRI machine. People with larger-sized bodies can also have problems with a closed MRI, whereas an open MRI can accommodate almost anyone.

"Previously, each week, we were sending out approximately ten open MRI requests to non-VA facilities, which cost the VA as much as $1,000 per exam," says Victor M. Wojtas, business manager for Imaging Services. "It was costly for the VA and, more importantly, an inconvenience for our Veteran patients."

"Now we can perform MRI scans on any veteran, for any reason, regardless of their personal situation," adds Dr. Siegel, noting that the new open MRI suite will help to further decrease patient wait times, something his team has been working hard to improve. "We’re excited. We think this is going to make a big difference."

MRI uses a strong magnetic field and radiofrequency waves to provide detailed pictures of internal organs and tissues. Early models of open MRI units featured weaker magnets than those in closed MRI units. Because of this, they produced lower quality scans. The new open MRI system at the VA Maryland Health Care System has a 1.2 tesla magnet, which is almost as strong as a closed unit.

"You get a better picture with a more powerful magnet," says Dr. Siegel. "It’s ideal because we are not sacrificing quality for comfort and convenience."

The new open MRI suite is expected to be a sound investment, eliminating the $500,000 previously spent by the VA each year for Veterans to receive open MRIs at non-VA facilities.

The new open MRI will be available to all Veterans served by the VA Maryland Health Care System, including those who live along the Eastern Shore.  As the first VA health care system in the region to have an open MRI, Wojtas expects the service will be opened up to Veterans from Delaware and Pennsylvania who typically access other VA health care systems.