The Business Case for Pediatric Imaging: Kids’ MRI at Lourdes Hospital

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Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, New York, knew that it was losing pediatric MRI patients to a local imaging center with a 0.6T open MRI system, but it wasn’t until the imaging department started collecting data and tracking how many phone calls a day it received inquiring about open MRI that it decided to install an open system alongside its 1.5T conventional closed-bore scanner. “We were getting four or five calls a day for the open architecture,” Brian Wetzel, director of diagnostic imaging at Lourdes Hospital, recalls. “We started evaluating the equipment out there, looking for a system that would provide that open architecture with state-of-the-art images.” An evaluation team that included both radiologists and technologists settled on the 1.2T boreless Oasis system from Hitachi Medical Systems (Twinsburg, Ohio). Wetzel says the team was impressed by the scanner’s design and image quality. “We bought it for how friendly it is to the concerned parent and how comfortable it is for the pediatric patient, as well as to answer the professional needs of the physician who reads the images,” he notes. Appealing to Kids Wetzel and Victoria Herman, who is MRI manager at Lourdes Hospital, explain that pediatric patients are of special importance to the imaging team at the hospital. “We bend over backward for all of our patients, but when a child is hurt, it touches the heart of every person who deals with him or her,” Wetzel (a father of four) says. "The addition of the open MRI allows us to create an even more positive and memorable experience for our pediatric patients and their parents." Herman concurs. “Being a parent myself, I know that it seems as though every parent works, and I understand that you need to make things as convenient as possible,” she says. “In addition to the benefits offered by the open system, we customize our week’s schedule around kids.” For instance, Herman says, Lourdes Hospital is now able to offer evening MRI appointments for pediatric patients because the boreless architecture of the Oasis system helps kids remain compliant, making anesthesia (and the scheduling headache that accompanies it) unnecessary, in many cases. “Parents are starting to learn that their kids won’t need anesthesia, and the MRI scan can be scheduled like anything else,” she says. “Compliance is higher because the comfort level is higher. They can turn their heads and see out of the machine completely.” Lourdes Hospital’s technologists also play a role in keeping kids happy during scans. “Our technologists are phenomenal with children,” Herman says, noting that Lourdes Hospital will staff three technologists for pediatric studies: one to operate the scanner, one to remain in the MRI suite with the patient, and one to address parents’ questions. The MRI suite is equipped with stuffed animals, stickers, and candy. “We make sure the kids are happy and comfortable, and that their parents are comfortable with what’s happening,” she says. In the future, Wetzel says, Lourdes Hospital might look into equipping the waiting room with a doll-sized model of an Oasis system to create even greater familiarity with it among pediatric patients. “We’ll often bring the kids in ahead of time and let them get into the magnet, so they can see what it’s like,” he notes. “Then, when they’re scheduled for the scan, they’re not as afraid.” Appealing to Parents Parents can be as frightened as their children by the prospect of imaging—especially when compliance with a lengthy exam requires anesthesia. With the Oasis system, Herman notes, “Parents can come into the suite and can be inside the magnet with the child, if they need to, and the children respond tremendously well. Usually, they’ll give the Oasis a try before making an appointment with the anesthesiologist, and they’re always so thrilled when they can get through the exam without needing that next step. Parents love it, and they are extremely thankful." As a result, Wetzel says, “Our pediatric business has definitely grown. We’re not a pediatric hospital, but most of the pediatric patients come here.” He estimates that pediatric patients account for 5% to 10% of the volume of exams performed using the Oasis. Growing pediatric business means appealing to parents—and parents, especially mothers, can be a source of downstream volume and revenue, Herman notes. “Moms take the initiative with health care for their families,” she says. “We see parents wanting to be scanned on the Oasis now. Down the road, maybe the mother needs an exam, and she wants the same machine—she’s already experienced it and knows she was comfortable in there.” Maintaining Quality Of course, patient comfort and compliance are nothing without the high-quality images that radiologists need to make confident diagnoses. Wetzel notes that Lourdes Hospital’s evaluation team selected the Oasis both for its design and for its image quality. “It was the technical and professional opinion of our radiologists that this equipment provided images comparable to the 1.5T system’s images,” he says. A proprietary feature called RADAR™ further enhances image quality for pediatric patients, Herman says. “Even if the patient squirms a little bit—and as parents know, kids don’t hold still—this technology compensates for that and allows for exceptional image quality,” she says. “The parents in our community are starting to come here more and more because of that.” The architecture itself also plays a role, she notes. “When kids can have their moms lying next to them, reminding them to hold still, they do so well, and the image quality is so good. There’s no negative to this whatsoever,” she concludes. “This magnet is phenomenal for kids. In my opinion, it doesn’t get any better.” Cat Vasko is editor of and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.