It has been more than nine years since the new campus of Dixie Regional Medical Center opened on River Road in St. George. It was time to replace the original 1.5 Tesla MRI Magnet with a brand new state-of-the-art 3 Tesla MRI, especially considering the advanced needs of the hospital’s new neurosciences program.
The new MRI scanner is now operational and has the ability to provide much clearer images than its predecessor. It also features a much larger opening in its core than any other MRI in southern Utah, making the scanning experience much more comfortable for patients.
The Dixie Regional Health & Performance Center also has a 3 Tesla MRI Magnet that can provide comparable images to the new MRI in the River Road Campus, but the River Road scanner has a core opening a full ten centimeters larger. Ten centimeters may not sound like much, but it can make a big difference if you’re claustrophobic.
The larger opening also allows the hospital to scan much larger patients. The old MRI’s weight capacity was 350 pounds and patients who exceeded that limit had to make do with some other type of scan or go to Salt Lake City for an MRI. The limit on the new machine is 500, and a 470 pound patient has already been scanned without difficulty.
The new MRI also has the ability to let patients choose to enter either head first or feet first, which is another big satisfier for those with claustrophobia. Plus the new machine offers noise reducing technology, making scans much quieter for those sensitive to noise.
For Gregg Stout, Intermountain Southwest Region imaging manager over MRI, the best part about getting the new MRI is the newly remodeled suite it sits in. “When we started talking about replacing the circa 2003 MRI scanner with a new one, I decided that this would be the perfect time to redesign the MRI suite with the patient in mind,” Stout said. “The goal was to humanize the room — to make it more comfortable and less clinical for our patients. I think we’ve accomplished that.”
Stout worked with architects and construction crews to create a suite that was more inviting for patients and allowed the patient to have some control over their experience. In the old MRI suite, the walls were white and there was all the necessary equipment and supplies sitting out on counters in plain view. Stout decided that he wanted to hide all that often frightening-looking stuff in cabinets and cupboards. He also had the architects round out the corners in the room to give it more warmth.
Light panels were installed on the walls in the new suite and patients can change the lighting to any color scheme they want. Patients are also given headphones so they can listen to calming music or even plug in their own iPod. There is also a 70 inch TV installed on the ceiling and patients can choose what to watch during their scans — including their own movies from home.
“Instead of a white clinical exam room, the new suite has sort of a spa feel,” Stout said. “Patients have already responded positively to the change. Hospital reimbursements are becoming more and more closely tied to patient satisfaction, so it was the right time to do this. We’re looking at all the imaging areas to make them all more patient-focused.”
What will the new 3 Tesla MRI Magnet be used for? The state-of-the-art machine will allow us to generate images with much finer detail, making it possible to map the nerve fiber tracks for neurologic studies, and map the cartilage in orthopedic studies. The increased speed and image quality will also allow better vascular and cardiac imaging.
What goes into replacing an MRI magnet? Here’s a look at the construction project
Considering that an MRI magnet weighs close to 25,000 pounds, the project of replacing the original 1.5 Tesla MRI Magnet with a brand new 3 Tesla MRI took a little bit of extra planning and effort. More than three months worth to be exact.
The project began with deciding how to remove the old magnet. Architects were consulted to ensure that the floor could support the MRI’s weight. Two walls had to be torn down to allow the huge magnet to be removed. Then the construction crews slid the behemoth out to the parking lot using special jacks and metal skids. A crane was used to load it onto a truck so that it could be hauled away.
Safety was a top priority during the project. The Central Processing team working in the basement beneath the construction was displaced for multiple days to make sure nothing came crashing down on them. Thankfully everything went off without a hitch and everyone stayed safe throughout the adventure.
While the MRI inside was out of commission, the hospital brought in a mobile MRI unit that was parked in the parking lot behind the ER. Although it wasn’t exactly ideal, patients were able to receive their necessary imaging procedures throughout the construction.
Once the old MRI was out of the way, crews got to work preparing the room for the new equipment. MRI suites must be properly shielded to contain the magnetic field and prevent damage to surrounding equipment. Because the new magnet is twice as powerful as the old one, a lot more shielding had to be installed. Copper RF shielding was also required and most of the wiring in the suite had to be rerouted. Then the new MRI was brought in.
Once the new MRI was in place, crews had to work around it to finish the suite with all of its new patient-friendly features.
“It was really a team effort,” praises Gregg Stout. “Construction, central processing, the emergency department, administration, and many others were very supportive. I’m really pleased with the result. It was a lot of work but it was totally worth it.”
Some interesting facts about the 3 Tesla MRI Magnet:
- The magnet is around 60,000 times the strength of the earth’s magnetic field.
- There is approximately 30 miles of wire wrapped around a metal cylinder that com¬prise the magnet’s windings. The wire is about the size of a pencil lead.
- To ramp up the magnet, enough electricity to power around 200 homes is run through the windings. It takes two to three days to do this at a cost of close to $50,000.
- Once it is ramped up to its magnetic field, electricity is removed from the magnet’s windings and liquid helium (at a temperature of -268 degrees C or -452.4 F) make the magnet super conduct. As long as the helium is properly maintained, the magnet could potentially stay at field for approximately 300 years.
- All of the equipment used near the MRI must be made of material not attractive to the magnet and operators have to be very careful about what goes near the machine. Even very small objects would be very difficult to remove once taken by the magnet.