Optimizing the MRI Portfolio for Patient-centered Care: Lee Memorial Health System

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Mark WilliamsLee Memorial Health System (LMHS), Fort Myers, Florida, offers a wide range of imaging services at its four acute-care campuses and three outpatient imaging centers, including a host of high-field MRI systems. As Mark Williams, director of outpatient imaging, recalls, however, something was missing. “When we looked at our business model, we saw that we had a demand for a patient-centered MRI system,” he says. One of Lee’s outpatient centers had a 0.3T open system that scanned one or two patients a day, but the demand was much higher than the system could accommodate. “With changing times and reimbursement on the decline, we had to maximize our return on investment,” Williams says. “We decided to replace both of the magnets at this facility with a single high-field open system.” After evaluating the two systems on the market that offered both patient-friendly architecture and high field strength, Williams and his team selected the Oasis boreless 1.2T MRI system from Hitachi Medical Systems. “We were pleasantly surprised to find that the design of the Hitachi system seemed to offer a better, more patient-friendly experience,” he says. “We liked that the company offered unlimited applications and a very robust marketing system focused on the patient. That’s where we wanted to go—with all the systems we have, we wanted to make sure this location was all about the patient experience.” Meeting Demand It is often observed that health care is becoming increasingly consumer driven, and Williams says that the community that LMHS serves is no exception to this trend. “Patients are becoming more and more like consumers when it comes to health care—they are looking at what they have available to them and scrutinizing where every dollar is being spent,” he says. “Patients have always wanted open MRI.”
The Oasis MRI suite at Lee Memorial’s Outpatient Radiology at Riverwalk facility. Photo courtesy of Lee Memorial Health System.
When the only LMHS open system was a 0.3T magnet, however, patients’ needs had to be balanced against those of their physicians—and more often than not, physicians’ need for better image quality won. “It’s not until we installed the Oasis system that we felt that we could give the patients what they expect, while giving the physicians the detail they need,” Williams says. “We’re giving them the image resolution they would see from a high-field system, so they’re all on board.” In fact, he says, one group of vascular surgeons called to ask whether the Oasis system could do runoff studies. “We said it could, and the group responded that we would be getting all of its business,” Williams says. To enhance further the outpatient center’s focus on patients, the team at LMHS installed the Oasis in what had once been a CT suite to take advantage of the room’s windows, which look onto a nature preserve. The old floors in the center were replaced with new, faux-hardwood flooring, and the health system plans to install an MRI-compatible entertainment system in the Oasis suite. “We’re really going for a comfortable experience,” Williams says. “The whole room is designed with the patient in mind.” Spreading the Word As Williams notes, demand for a high-field, patient-friendly MRI system was already high in the community—and a local news report on the installation of the Oasis helped introduce additional patients and physicians to the technology. “Through our publicity department, a news crew got wind of the fact that we would be installing the system, so the crew came out as it was being lifted over the building with a crane,” Williams recalls. “The crew interviewed one of our radiologists, and after that, another news crew came and did a story on the system.” The result has been unprecedented demand, even as the health system’s campaign to market the system is just getting underway. By the time the Oasis system was implemented in January, Williams and his team had a waiting list. “The phones were ringing, and 60 patients were waiting to be imaged on the Oasis when we were getting ready to open,” he says. “There’s been a dramatic increase in demand. Before this, we could have scheduled patients for appointments the next day; now there’s a wait, and we’re having to expand our hours.” The Oasis has been particularly popular among bariatric and claustrophobic patients, who traditionally have trouble with the tight confines of conventional MRI systems. “We’re doing imaging for patients we couldn’t do before—bariatric patients—as well as for inpatients from the hospitals who either can’t tolerate or can’t fit into the system there,” Williams says. “The hospitals are transporting those patients to be imaged here. We’re expanding our business quite a bit and seeing patients I never could have imaged before, anywhere in the health system.” As a result, Williams says, in just six weeks, LMHS was able to expand its market share. “We’re doing the marketing, but our schedule was full even without it, just through word on the street,” he says. “This system truly is a game changer, and it’s making our competitors very nervous.” Most important, he says, LMHS is better able to serve its patients, maintaining their comfort and satisfaction while providing the highest possible quality of imaging. “The image quality is every bit as good as that of a closed or 1.5T system,” he notes. “It’s not just about our business model—it’s about providing the community with a needed service that was not here before. We’ve seen that people are very thankful for it.” Cat Vasko is editor of ImagingBiz.com and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.