Patients benefit from machine

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 13, 2002

"Intimidating" and "huge" are some of the words visitors used to describe a new diagnostic system at the Austin Medical Center.

But one radiologist said it's like a big camera.

The Austin Medical Center recently purchased a magnetic resonance imaging scanner, better known as an MRI. MRI scanners are used to detect injuries or illnesses in soft tissue areas. During an MRI scan, patients lie on a movable table inside a donut-shaped scanner. A computer "listens" to the radio waves created in the patient's body by a magnetic field. With those radio waves, the computer constructs images that radiologists interpret.

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The Austin Medical Center celebrated the MRI with a ribbon cutting ceremony with the Austin Chamber Ambassadors and an open house to the public from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Previously, a mobile MRI machine came to Austin Medical Center two days a week. Those days were always full with appointments, Accurso said. Having an MRI in town will be more convenient for patients because they will be able have an MRI the same or next day the doctor requests it.

"We're providing better patient service," said Joseph Accurso, M.D., medical director of radiology. "We want to provide the appropriate level of care close to home."

The radiology department first used the MRI on May 13 and since then have scanned more than 100 patients.

"We just worked the kinks out," Accurso said.

The MRI is used mostly commonly to examine soft tissue. Patients with sports injuries in knees and shoulders can be scanned to determine the problem area. Arthritis and vision problems can be detected by the MRI. It can also be used to examine a patient who may have had a stroke. The procedure takes anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

A patient must be referred by a doctor to have an MRI scan. Sometimes MRIs will not be used because it is not appropriate for a patient, Accurso said. The MRI cannot detect calcium so kidney or gall bladder stones would not show up on the images. The MRI is also sensitive to metal. A patient with a hip replacement for example, may skew the images.

"For most things, it is a better tool," Accurso said. "It's not necessarily the most cost-effective and not necessarily the most appropriate."

An MRI scan costs from $750 to $1,000, but most insurance plans cover most if not all of the cost, Accurso said.

Radiology technicians went to a training session held by General Electric, the MRI's manufacturer, had on-site training and will have periodic training sessions throughout the year, Accurso said.

The Austin Medical Center performs MRIs Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call (507)434-1402 for more information.

Cari Quam can be reached at