MRI exams can be daunting.
As a patient, you're essentially squeezed in to a dark tunnel, surrounded by loud, clanking metal that can be as loud as 110 decibels, similar to the noise level emitted by a power saw, or what you'd experience at a rock concert. Exams can take around an hour and to top it all off, you're expected to remain perfectly still, or risk compromising the quality of the MRI scan. Patients can experience anxiety, claustrophobia and distress during this procedure. Imaging facilities, hospitals, staff and patients therefore see the need for improving the overall patient experience of undergoing these potentially life-saving imaging procedures, and manufacturers are stepping up to the plate with some pretty creative, even heroic solutions.
From a systems perspective, competitors in the MRI market have been addressing patients' unease by increasing the bore size of the MRI, which not only offers a little bit more breathing room for patients, but also accommodates larger patients who may not otherwise be able to undergo an MRI scan. There are companies that offer upright MRI systems and many facilities also resort to open MRI systems which often have lower imaging strength, forgoing the higher quality of the imaging capabilities of a closed system for the sake of their patients' comfort. In reponse to the distruptive noise generated by the machine, GE Healthcare launched a Silent Scan feature in 2013 that drastically reduces the noise level of an MRI exam, thereby resulting in a more peaceful experience for the patient.
Some competitors in the MRI space are taking the experience beyond the level of the MRI system itself.
Philips Healthcare has come up with an in-bore solution, which they launched at RSNA 2014. For patients undergoing head-first exams, the system provides distracting and entertaining visuals and audio, to help create a calmer environment for patients during their scan. Siemens Healthcare also recently launched their MRIamahero! Program, which consists of an educational, superhero-themed kit tailored to children, about MRI exams. The kit includes comic books, plush toys, and even superhero capes the company attests that pediatric patients will feel more comfortable about their upcoming MRI procedure after watching a DVD, or reading a comic about super-heros undergoing the same exam.
But are these costly additions worth it?
Ultimately, having a comfortable, relaxed patient benefits everyone. Patients that remain motionless during an exam can avoid having to undergo a second procedure (as well as the disrupted schedule and additional costs that come with it). Younger patients may require sedation during MRI exams to ease their apprehension during scans, so any steps that can alleviate this need (such as reassuring super heroes!), are better for the patient as well. Generally, the less a patient moves, the better the quality of the acquired MR image, which in turn gives physicians the opportunity to make a more accurate clinical diagnosis. Therefore, by improving the MRI experience, facilities can save money, improve efficiency and enhance overall patient satisfaction. It only leaves us to wonder, what will they come up with next?