Completing the MRI Portfolio: Summa Health System

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Nancy LawsonSumma Health System (Akron, Ohio), one of the largest health-care networks in the state, was facing a difficulty common to organizations that provide imaging for bariatric patients: the 0.3T open MRI system at its Summa Health Center at White Pond, to which many of these patients had to be referred, was too low in field strength for certain types of exams. Nancy Lawson, Summa Health System’s manager of radiology ambulatory services, says, “We needed an open unit that was also a high-field system, for orthopedic and abdominal work, in particular.”

The need was especially strong because of Summa Health System’s Bariatric Care Center, which draws a higher proportion of overweight patients than many organizations see. The Bariatric Care Center offers a program for medical weight-loss management and weight-loss surgery, and the latter can necessitate imaging. “The low-field system did not offer the same image quality that a high-field unit has,” Lawson says. “Within the health system, we have high-field units, but they are 1.5T closed units or closed large-bore high-field systems.”

Lawson and the team at Summa Health System saw the need for a supplemental MRI system that would offer high-quality imaging for every patient, but could also accommodate its heaviest patients. In November 2011, the Oasis 1.2T boreless MRI system from Hitachi Medical Systems was put into use at the White Pond health center. “We can accept patients weighing up to 660 pounds on the Oasis unit,” Lawson notes. “With this system, we have the ability to meet the needs of any patient—but especially those patients who have trouble fitting into other MRI units.”

Accommodating Every Patient

Versatility was of particular importance to the busy White Pond imaging center, Lawson says—the new MRI system has to accommodate every patient within a reasonable timeframe. “At Summa, we’re always assessing the needs of our community,” she says. “We look at what we have to offer to our patients to meet their needs and get their scans done in a timely manner.”

Bariatric patients were a key concern for Summa Health System in expanding its MRI portfolio, but so were patients in a group that sometimes overlaps—the very claustrophobic, who are unable to tolerate the closed architecture of conventional MRI systems. “There’s a very big population of claustrophobic individuals, and compliance is not easy for them,” Lawson says. “It’s very intimidating because of the noise the machine makes, and because they have to lie still for close to 45 minutes to have a scan done.”

With the Oasis system, on the other hand, both claustrophobic and bariatric patients are as readily accommodated as other patients. The boreless architecture of the 1.2T unit makes it possible for patients to see out of the system during the exam; in some cases, patients can even have company in the MRI suite. “With no radiation being used, we can let patients’ family members into the room with them,” Lawson says. “The staff is constantly speaking to patients through their headphones, and if they need to talk to us, they just squeeze a ball to alert us.”

Total exam time is also reduced, thanks to the system’s high field strength and advanced applications. Patients who once had to endure up to two hours in a low-field open system can be imaged in the Oasis in around 45 minutes, Lawson says.

Service and Quality

To better serve its patient community, Summa Health System trained its technologists in novel positioning techniques made possible by the Oasis system’s design. “If patients are unable to lie on their backs, you can put them up onto their sides to get images of the spine,” Lawson notes as an example. “The staff was trained in a few methods like these to get good-quality imaging.”

As a result, she says, the Summa Health Center at White Pond has improved its throughput considerably since implementing the new MRI. “Compared with having a low-field open MRI, I’ve increased our daily ability to schedule and perform exams by 30%,” she says. “Being able to accommodate patients of a larger size so readily has been a big plus.”

Patient service is increasingly critical to imaging’s success, but Lawson notes that the industry is still driven by referrals—and referrals are based on physicians’ satisfaction with image quality. “This is becoming a retail business, but it is still driven by a physician referring a patient,” she says. “Without an order, we can’t do anything.”

Lawson personally spoke with