M.R.I.

If you listen carefully, then you can almost hear Dr. Ken Blair, Palliser Health Authority’s Director of Diagnostic Imaging, say with pride: “Heeeeere’s is MRI!”

Besides Blair, there are numerous people who are proud of successfully bringing the MRI service to Palliser Health Authority (PHA). We tend to criticize our health care system a lot. Perhaps with good intentions. We want more of everything. The human desire for more is some time insatiable. Some times that is good and some times not so good.

In case of MRI, it was good! Certainly the Government of Alberta and our local MLAs deserve a big “Thank you”. So do the public, the health authority, the health care providers and Dr. Ken Blair and his team of tireless people in the x-ray department (oops! it is called the Department of Diagnostic Imaging).

What is MRI?

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. In 1946, Bloch and Purcell demonstrated that some atomic nuclei respond to the application of particular magnetic fields by emitting or absorbing electromagnetic field. This was then used for analytic chemistry.

A Swedish physicist, Erik Odeblad, pioneered the medical application of this technique in the 1950s. In the next 30 years, much work was done on the MRI images showing human pathology. Initial emphasis was placed on imaging of the brain. But since 1980, studies of other organs have also been performed.

All MRI machines are constructed around a large magnet that provides a uniform, static magnetic field. There are no adverse effects reported from this and there are guidelines designed to prevent possible hazards. The only adverse effect reported is three to four percent incidence of claustrophobia.

Dr. Jay Daniels, PHA’s Director of MRI Services, says the technology uses a super conducting magnet which is kept to a temperature approximately four degrees above absolute zero, with a resulting magnetic field over 50,000 times stronger than the earth’s. No ferrous metal is allowed in the examination room as it could become a very dangerous missile in the presence of the magnetic field!

Within a week or so, the first MRI images will roll out of the new addition to the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital. Daniels predicts excellent availability for the patients of our Region with lower waiting lists than has traditionally been the case in Alberta. The examination time will vary from few minutes to 40 minutes depending on the body part being imaged.

Common indications for the tests are: chronic headaches, family history of brain aneurysms, possible spinal disc diseases, and arthritis of the back, knees and shoulders. Other indications depend on the clinical situations. Daniels says the MRI is safer than using ionizing radiation as in the case with x-rays. Patients with metal in the eyes, pacemakers, and cardiac leads however cannot be imaged. Orthopaedic hardware like metals in the knees and hips can distort the pictures if they are too close to the organ being imaged

Blair is very proud of “the first class state of the art physical facility, which includes not only the room for the scanner, but also an excellent patient reception and waiting area”. There is a great lack of trained MRI technologists in Canada. PHA was fortunate to recruit an experienced technologist for the position of supervisor and have trained two of the local staff as MRI technologists.

Blair is worried that public’s perception and expectation on what an MRI can do may be too high. MRI is not indicated for all undiagnosed conditions and is not a “magic answer” to people’s anxiety about their health. Each request for MRI will be carefully screened, says Blair.

And he is serious. He will not accept my request for a total body MRI to see why my golf swing is so bad! For that I may have to go to a private clinic! But seriously, MRI will make a difference to the health of PHA residents. So be proud and make judicious use of the new service!

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