New Scanner Opens up New Possibilities for Patients

May 06, 2008

Dolphins swimming underwater, jet planes whizzing overhead, and monkeys climbing up palm trees are just some of the images patients are now seeing at Strong Memorial Hospital as it introduces the region’s first “open” high-field magnetic resonance (MRI) scanner. The scanner is housed in a room equipped with a specialized lighting and audio/visual package designed to relax patients while being scanned. Strong is the first in New York state with such a system, and one of only four hospitals in the entire Northeast region with this unique program.

According to David Waldman, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Imaging Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center, traditional MRI machines can be intimidating to some patients. Often, adult patients require medication to keep them calm and still enough to obtain a high quality image. Sedation is required for young children.

The “open” MRI scanner is built differently than traditional scanners. Rather than placing patients within a tunnel to be imaged, the open MRI features two open circular planes, between which the body area being scanned is placed. The sides are completely open, accessible and unobstructed – a great relief for patients who are claustrophobic.

“Our new open MRI machine offers new possibilities for many adult and pediatric patients,” Waldman said. “Its high-field strength magnet produces superior images to conventional low-field open MRI scanners, while the open configuration of the machine, combined with a unique room design, lighting and other audio-visual effects, can make scanning possible without medication or sedation.”

The specially designed room that houses the open MRI is equipped with an interactive audio-visual and lighting system. This “Ambient Experience” system allows patients to personalize the exam room by choosing a color to softly light the room, themed images which are projected on the wall, and sound effects. Among the 10 themed scenes are beach, jungle, mountain and underwater ocean, complete with a friendly floating octopus.

“The Ambient Experience has been shown to ease patients’ anxieties about the MRI scan, particularly for claustrophobic patients or children,” Waldman said. “By adding a level of fun to the experience, we hope to decrease the need for medications and sedation.”

The new scanner continues to expand the portfolio of scanning services available through the Department of Imaging Sciences. Over the past two years, the Department has installed the region’s first PET/CT scanner, the first 3T MRI scanner for clinical use and now the region’s first hospital-based open MRI with the Ambient Experience. Each year, nearly 500 faculty and staff members conduct more than 350,000 patient scans in a wide spectrum of imaging modalities.

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Germaine Reinhardt
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