The Case for Emergency Responder Magnet Safety, Part I

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You run a sound MRI operation with employees well trained in magnet safety, but have you ever thought about the scene following a fire alarm being pulled? Imagine several imposing, fully geared firefighters bursting through the door unabated, wielding axes, and completely unaware of the invisible danger generated by your MRI scanner. Why is this important? Because there has been a proliferation of MRI scanner sites in hospitals, commercial buildings, off-site clinics, mobile imaging trailers, and even unconventional sites such as shopping malls. Proactively training external emergency response personnel is not just a nice community service to provide, but a prudent business investment as well.

Emergency response personnel such as firefighters, EMS, and police generally have little MRI safety knowledge, so they, too, are clearly at risk when responding to an emergency call at an MRI center. Awareness of MRI safety is the best preventive strategy for avoiding an accident, and employees working with the scanners are the best line of defense for ensuring that accidents do not occur. However, increased patient safety and avoidance of costs from an accident are significant benefits relative to the minimal resources needed to implement a safety program for your community’s emergency responders.

When an MRI accident occurs, the foremost concern is for the safety of everyone involved, and this should be the primary motivation for engaging in proactive safety measure. In addition to patient safety issues and negative public perception, there may also be a significant negative financial impact on your imaging center. Restarting an MRI after a quench starts at $20,000 , and this does not include repair of physical damage to the MRI scanner from projectile impact or quenching itself, which can damage scanner parts that support the cryogen technology. Finally, there is the compounding effect of lost patient revenue resulting from the scanner downtime necessary for repair efforts. Returning the magnet to full operation after a quench, assuming there are no damages, takes an average of two days. Take a moment and consider how much revenue your MRI generates in two days, and you can quickly appreciate the minimum total financial impact of an MRI incident.
Next month, in part two, we will outline the development of an educational program for emergency response personnel in your community.