Mobile magnetic resonance imaging systems (MRIs) are a complete and flexible solution in the healthcare industry.
Mobile imaging in healthcare applications are evolving at a rapid pace because of the various benefits they provide. These innovations allow new possibilities to help expand the use of MRIs in the healthcare industry.
What is Medical Imaging?
Medical images are used to diagnose various diseases and to help create a treatment plan for patients.
Images play an important role in healthcare by enabling us to see various structures inside the human body. Medical imaging, also known as radiology, is an essential tool to help diagnose various diseases and illnesses. They help create visual representations of the interior parts of the body so that medical practitioners can analyse organs and tissues to determine if invasive or non-invasive medical interventions are required. Doctors usually have immediate access to data acquired through medical imaging at their hospital location.
Medical imaging in healthcare consists of tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT scans), ultrasounds, positron emission tomography (PET scans) and X-rays.
However, unlike X-rays, computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging are able to operate without ionizing radiation. CT scans can be described as three-dimensional x-ray techniques in which an x-ray beam is used to analyze the patient’s body from many different angles. These x-rays are captured by radiation detectors using electrical impulses that can then be analyzed or altered using a computer.
The first performed full body scan was in 1977 which was used to diagnose cancer. Even though MRI scanners were first invented in the 1940s, the first human scan of the whole-body was not performed until 1977.
When comparing MRI scans and CT scans, it is clear to see that they have similar properties as they both create images that are slices of anatomy within the body.
However, the processes by which the images are obtained are very different; MRI uses the magnetic properties of hydrogen, which is abundant in the body, to obtain various different images. CT scans, on the other hand, use special digital x-ray detectors as the patient lies on the bed. They use a narrow X-ray beam that circles around one part of the body. In MRIs, the hydrogen protons emit radiofrequency signals that are detected by the computer in order to obtain images for clinical uses. Early diagnosis of diseases and illnesses are essential to help the patient get the correct treatment; medical imaging helps with this crucial step so that patients can get accurate results and treatment.
Leveraging mobile technologies in the healthcare space has become a common practice in North America in the last decade (and we mean ‘mobile’ as ‘on-the-go’, not mobile as in smartphone technologies). So it should not come as a surprise that we’re reached a point where even ‘never-before-thought-of’ technologies like MRI machines can now we easily leveraged outside of the traditional hospital setting.
CT scans were one of the first technologies available in a mobile form and due to the success experienced with CT scans, the rise of MRI scans in a mobile setting is now a reality.
Mobile MRI consists of a tractor/van and trailer that is designed to hold the technology in place (MRI scans). It also contains extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy units (ESWL) and gamma cameras that allow medical imaging to go mobile.
The introduction of MRI scans arose after the success and increased use of mobile scans; similar success was expected and encouraged for MRI scans.
In 1987, it was estimated that there were close to 700 mobile MRI machines in the United States of America. In Canada, there were only two functional MRI mobile scans in 1995.
Since 2001, there is growing evidence that the demand for MRI scans worldwide is driving the increase of mobile MRI imaging. Fortunately, the cost for mobile MRI imaging is lower than that of fixed MRI scanners.
Rigorous evaluation of standards and regulations are done to ensure that the mobile MRIs are efficient and safe.
Read more about the comparison between fixed medical imaging and mobile imaging here.
Mobile MRI Scanners
Mobile MRI scanners are a foundational component with a rising presence in the healthcare industry.
They are used to diagnose various diseases and as a basis for developing treatment strategies. However, the sharing of visual data remotely is limited in hospitals that use fixed MRI scanners.
The use of mobile MRI scanners acts as a base for visual communication and dedicated imaging software and removes the technical barriers usually posed by using portable services.
Mobile MRI scanners enhance communication between different healthcare providers, which is an essential factor in providing for the best possible patient care.
The ability to access medical images from any location is beneficial for patient-to-doctor communication or doctor-to-doctor communication.
Patients do not have to drive to hospitals or a dedicated imaging facility to pick up their results; the information can be accessed remotely since the data is secure and encrypted to ensure personal privacy.
Costs of Mobile MRI Scanners
The decision to purchase mobile MRI scanners by hospitals should not be based solely on costs. Rather, the consideration should be more heavily on the effort to provide the opportunity to use this technology in areas that cannot afford to provide these services in fixed hospital settings.
But if you’d like to talk money, the cost of fixed versus mobile scanners includes different fixed and operating costs.
Fixed costs are dependent on which type of scanner is being used. Specifically, MRI scanners have varying costs when compared to CT scans.
Operating costs for mobile MRI scanners are usually higher, however, the mobile technology is able to provide services to multiple facilities within a given geographic area. Prices of mobile MRI scanners range from anywhere between $150,000 to $400,000+.
Benefits of Mobile MRIs
MRI scanning within hospitals and healthcare systems can cost millions of dollars.
In addition, it can become difficult to swap out an older generation MRI scanner for a new one.
MRI technology is rapidly advancing in developed countries. With an increase in the ability to access affordable mobile technology, there is an accompanying increase in its utilization. The rapid increase in utilization of MRI scans is related to its risk/benefit factors.
There is a need for faster patient processing and improved image quality or resolution all over the world. Due to the increased demand for MRI examinations, hospitals and physicians can benefit greatly from mobile MRIs.
There are several advantages of using mobile MRIs in the healthcare industry. Here’s a few benefits of this exciting technology:
- Costs and services can be shared among the several sites sharing a mobile MRI
- There is no travel required by the patient in order to benefit from MRI services
- There are lowered installation and site costs for mobile MRI scanners
- The technology can be tested before the system is bought by hospitals and private clinics
- Mobile MRIs provide convenient patient access and an enhanced patient experience
- There is no large capital investment or build out required for MRI technologies
- MRI scanners avoid space limitations and are able to be relocated for deployment to multiple sites
- Technology is sourced from the most original equipment manufacturer (OEMs) with in-house transportation division and maximum maintenance coverage
- Mobile MRIs offer the ability to add onto and/or expand existing service lines with upgraded or new imaging technology
- Mobile equipment, including MRIs, are able to fill the service void that is found in small to medium-sized hospitals that are unable to purchase fixed scanners
The ability of mobile MRIs to offer convenient and flexible services, lower fixed costs, and to provide a potential source of increased revenue increases the demand for this technology.
Mobile MRI units are able to deliver healthcare services to patients who are deprived of this medical technology, such as those in areas with poverty who do not have access to MRI scans.
A mobile unit enables the adoption of rotating schedules based on the volume and need for the service. Furthermore, the variable costs of mobility can be split among the multiple owners who use these mobile devices. Mobile MRIs have cheaper installation costs and take less time to install than fixed MRI scanners. In addition, mobile MRI scanners can be used as backups, if a fixed unit is undergoing maintenance or renovation, to help speed up the process of delivering MRI scans to the patients that need them the most.
The Future of Mobile MRIs
Mobile MRI scanners are increasing in North America because of their flexible properties, making them very useful in the healthcare industry.
In a mobile setting, safety concerns are similar to those in fixed MRI settings. When cost is taken into account, the total fixed costs of mobile MRIs are generally lower than fixed cost of MRI devices installed on-premise. There is no build out required to operate a mobile MRI and the technology can be upgraded without spending millions of dollars in capital expenditures.
Mobile MRIs give hospitals and physicians the opportunity to provide services they might not otherwise be able to offer. Mobile imaging brings the services to patients in a quicker and faster manner. The technology used for mobile MRIs is constantly changing; interest in new ways of using this technology is rising.