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New MRI Center Is Ready to Deliver Diagnoses

Naval Medical Center San Diego’s new MRI Center comes equipped with four high-powered scanners that step up imaging capabilities to ultimately offer faster and more accurate diagnoses of disease and injury.

Three Philips Ingenia 3T Omega scanners costing $2.6 million each with a military discount are being introduced to the $15 million Magnetic Resonance Imaging Center in place of two lower strength MRI scanners. The medical center is retaining one high-powered MRI scanner for a total of four in the new center.

The new equipment’s state-of-the-art technology features a stronger magnet and produces sharper, clearer images of the body including the brain, heart and muscular-skeletal areas. NMCSD Body Imaging Radiologist Dr. Gilbert Boswell said the optimal picture quality leads to a more precise diagnosis for the patient, which reduces the need for exploratory surgery.

“Because of the specific imaging characteristics we’re very confident about what’s going on in the patients and we don’t need to do further tests,” Boswell said. “We only want patients to go to the operating room if they absolutely need to.”

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Along with improved accuracy, the advanced equipment speeds scan times, enabling exams to be shortened from 45 minutes to 30 minutes. The stepped up efficiency means the imaging center can increase the capacity of patients it serves from 80 per day to 120 per day or possibly more when the center is fully utilized, Boswell said.

The decision to convert a former film archive room in the main Radiology Department and expand it into a 4,000-square-foot MRI Center was made by Navy Medical Logistics Command.

“Our responsibility is to our warriors, particularly the wounded, ill and injured,” Boswell said. “It gives me comfort that we can provide them with the latest imaging capabilities and the best care. We feel our patients are tremendously worth it. It’s very important that our patients understand we’re doing what we can to support them in the best way possible.”

Currently, Radiology performs about 1,400 scans per month. Patients should experience an improvement in the way they go to their appointments as the MRI Center has been moved from the far back of the hospital away from traditional patient traffic to a central location on the second floor. The move was made possible by replacing the outdated 70,000-pound scanners purchased in the 1980s with lighter 14,000-pound scanners.

Cmdr. James McKee, an M.D. and vice chairman of radiology for NMCSD, said the ability to get in and out of the center easier leads to better quality service.

“We were able to take an old file room and use it for this great innovative technology as opposed to building a freestanding building,” McKee said. “Not only is it in the heart of our department, it’s also at the heart of the hospital itself.”

He added that features such as a wider diameter in the scanners’ tunnel, increased to 70 centimeters from a typical 50 to 60 centimeters, will help ease patients’ anxiety.

“The whole purpose of this project was to bring health care to the patient in a way that’s better for them,” he said. “We’ve been able to create an environment where their anxiety might be lessened. It’s lessened from the time they park their car and come into the department to the time they’re waiting to the exam and to the time they leave.”

One of the unique benefits of the MRI Center will be its utility for neurological and functional MR imaging, which will be used to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury, particularly for combat wounded service members. An additional function will be its utility in breast imaging as an adjunct to mammography. Boswell said some breast cancer patients, particularly those in high-risk categories, are better served by being examined with MRI.

“I don’t know of any hospital of that size or larger that is able to scan all patients at the higher quality,” he said.

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