SCH’s new 3T MRI: Strength, speed and detail

SALEM – Twice the strength, twice the speed, twice the detail – that’s what Salem Community Hospital’s new 3T MRI offers patients over other magnetic resonance imaging scanners in the area, Dr. Peter Apicella said.

The recently installed machine is the only one of its kind available in the area stretching from Pittsburgh to Cleveland, using the latest technology for brain, spine, body, extremity and breast imaging.

“Our images are sharper with a lot more detail to diagnose diseases sooner,” Apicella said.

Apicella is chairman of the Department of Medical Imaging at the hospital and explained the new 3T Open MRI was designed with the patient in mind, with an opening large enough to hold a 550-pound person and accommodate a waist size of 86 inches.

The large size and the quickness of the image-taking can be good for people who are claustrophobic and don’t like confined spaces. In most cases, the head is outside of the opening. Some images can take as little as 12 seconds.

“Everything’s designed to relax you,” he said, noting there are mood colors depending on the type of scan, music and a large window to the outside world.

According to Apicella, they can secure the best quality pictures in half the time of other scanners and can diagnose problems quicker because the problem can be readily seen due to the higher magnetic strength and detailed image.

For brains, they can catch patients at risk for stroke before they have one if they’ve been having early symptoms. They provide the best imaging for headaches, multiple sclerosis, dementia and memory problems and brain tumors. In the spine, they can see the entire spine in one image and see around metallic implants or see problems in post-surgical patients.

They can see more detail to diagnose problems in the joints, like the knees, shoulders, wrists and ankles. They can see blood flow to help patients with circulation problems and see sharper images of organs in the body in the abdominal area and have better imaging for breast cancer.

Apicella noted that before, they could not see around the metal implants inside a person and now they can. In fact, the images are so detailed that doctors can see the threads of a screw. He said they can actually see a tear in a knee and can detect a bruise in the knee bone.

“Ultimately that’s all we’re trying to do here is make a difference,” he said.

Patients must be referred by their physician for testing. Apicella estimated the cost at $1,000 to $2,000 depending on the test, which can be covered by some insurance. He said they’ve kept their costs the same for the new 3T Open MRI, but said they’ve been facing a challenge from insurance companies who are contacting patients about cheaper alternatives at other area facilities.

Cheaper isn’t better, he said, and in this case, the images at SCH will be higher quality.

“If people want to be certain their physician is getting the most accurate imaging, they need to make sure they’re referred to SCH,” he said.

SCH Public Relations Director Michele Hoffmeister said “patients need to be their own advocates. They need to make sure they’re getting the best testing in their area.”

The hospital also offers one of the best CT scanners around, giving area residents the most detailed imaging available close to home. A CT is different because it uses low-dose radiation at half the cost and offers the best images of inside the heart and lungs. An MRI uses a magnet.