New York radiology practice replaces two MR systems with one; Significantly grows volumes

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Serving the community of upstate New York’s Capital Region, Adirondack Radiology Associates (ARA) recently expanded patients’ access to state-of-the-art, high-field open bore MR imaging technology, replacing two systems, an older low-field open system and a closed 1.5T system, with the Hitachi Oasis high-field open MR at their Saratoga Imaging Center. Since the installation, ARA has experienced an increase in procedure volumes and patient satisfaction as well a reduction in costs. 

Adirondack owns and operates three diagnostic imaging centers: North Country Imaging Center, MRI at the Pruyn Pavilion, and Saratoga Imaging Center. It also provides exclusive radiology services to Glens Falls Hospital. In addition, Advanced Imaging at Baybrook in Glens Falls is a joint venture between North Country Imaging and Glens Falls Hospital. With a long history of being the only provider in the Saratoga Springs region with an open MR system, ARA felt it was important to continue to provide an open imaging alternative for those patients who deal with claustrophobia issues, or have situations preventing them from using traditional bore systems.   The practice’s Administrative Director, Jim Combs, offered his perspective on how replacing two MR systems at one of their imaging centers with the Oasis has changed their practice.

First there were two

ARA is a well-established provider of imaging services in the Capital Region and patients look to them for cutting-edge imaging technology when it comes to their health. Since 1971, ARA has been meeting the region’s imaging needs, and for a long period of time, was the only imaging provider to operate an open MR system in the Saratoga Springs area. When the Saratoga Imaging Center moved to its current location about ten years ago, they were interested in doing more breast MR studies, which, by and large, were mostly being performed on closed systems. In keeping with its mission to be on the forefront of new imaging services and practice concepts, ARA decided to continue to provide patients with an open MR imaging system, but also purchased a closed bore system that would offer additional services to patients, such as MR imaging of the breast.

“It’s very rare for an imaging center to have two magnets,” explains Combs, “but it was important for us to continue to provide an open alternative for those patients who needed it, as well as have the ability to provide services that required the closed system. We decided to operate both at our Saratoga facility.”

And then there was one

Over time, advances in MR imaging technology spurred the release of next generation MR systems. The developments were apparent in terms of physical changes to the systems. More manufacturers were producing open systems, some produced partially open systems and some closed systems were given a wider bore opening to accommodate patients more comfortably. But the advances didn’t only come in the form of physical specifications, significant strides were made in terms of evolving the image quality produced with MR imaging. 

“As time passed, we continued to follow Hitachi’s developments and improvements in MR, and we were specifically interested in the technology used in the Oasis,” says Combs. “Once we decided to make the move to the Oasis, we felt strongly about the technology within the system and that it would be able to take the place of both of the systems we were operating at the time at that location. To make it work for us from a financial perspective, Hitachi was able to terminate the service contracts on our two older MR systems and keep us budget neutral for a period of two years.” The Saratoga Imaging Center is back to operating only one MR unit now, has realized cost savings of nearly one FTE, and is extremely pleased with the quality of the imaging studies produced by the Oasis.

No sacrificing image quality

ARA installed the 1.2 T Oasis, the highest field open magnet on the market, at their Saratoga Imaging Center. According to Combs, the center’s radiologists feel that there doesn’t seem to be any sacrifice of image quality in the open bore system, as has been known to be the case in some open systems, due to the typically lesser strength of the magnet. “We believe, based on what we’ve seen,” says Combs, “that it provides equivalent image quality as the closed bore magnets that are available, and in some cases, superior image quality.”

Despite the loss of the closed system at the Saratoga facility that was purchased with the intent of providing breast MR studies, Combs explains they are indeed able to continue providing the breast studies using Hitachi’s breast coil, developed for the Oasis. “We’ve been very successful in this area,” reports Combs, “The breast images are extremely high quality. In fact, we’re seeing superior images in other areas as well, such as in abdominal imaging and MR angiography (MRA).”

Spreading the word

Since the Oasis was installed at the Saratoga facility, ARA has completed extensive marketing campaigns to spread the word about the new open system and its superior imaging capabilities. To date, Combs said they have reached a point of capacity in scheduling and have added an evening shift to accommodate patients who request imaging on the Oasis. Since they’ve installed, ARA has seen a growth in volume by 17 percent.

“What we’re seeing more frequently today is that patients are making the choice about which MR for their exam. We’ve noticed an increasing amount of steerage happening as an effort to control cost from the payor side, but for the most part, patients behave differently when it comes to MR, putting comfort ahead of cost if they can. Basically,” Combs adds, “patients love this machine. There’s a real sense of openness that makes them feel at ease. Additionally, the weight capacity of the bed enables us to accommodate patients that simply can’t be imaged on other machines. These capabilities have allowed us to reach further out to patients geographically, expanding our market and letting those folks know what’s available for their imaging needs. ”

Though ARA has not yet completed any formal patient satisfaction studies regarding experiences with the Oasis, Combs is satisfied to see the growth and collect the anecdotal feedback from patients, staff and referring physicians as well about their satisfaction with their experience thus far. 

Claudette Lew is associate editor, ImagingBiz.