Improved Chances of Recovery in Stroke Patients with Head-Only MRI in ER

Neural background, colour and black and white MRI scans. Text: A stroke of brilliance: new head-only mri for emergent cases

A move to value-based healthcare – where a priority is placed on the combination of reduced cost of treatment, improved healthcare outcomes, and improved patient and healthcare provider experience – is defining the future of health service provision in Canada and the US. This tectonic shift in how health services are valued, delivered, and consumed is driving innovation toward patient-centric, outcome-focused technologies. One such example is in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which gives an exceptional resolution for medical diagnostics by outputting detailed images of structures within the human body. Considered the state-of-the-art in medical imaging, developments in MRI technology are also being influenced by the move toward value-based healthcare.

The expense of purchasing and installing an MRI machine is eye-watering; a general-purpose MRI costs over $1.5 million and installation costs can easily add another $1 million. The capital costs and logistical challenges of having an MRI machine in a hospital require that it is kept in a centralized radiology suite with its own department to run and maintain its scheduled use. For medical staff and patients in the Emergency Room (ER), the use of an MRI in emergent cases becomes nearly impossible; but having a high-resolution image of the brain during medical emergencies, such as a stroke, can dramatically improve treatment outcomes.

Blaine Chronik and his research group in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Western University are developing cutting-edge technologies for head MRI, designed specifically for imaging the brains of head trauma patients. The Chronik lab’s goal is to develop MRI that performs better at specific tasks, and that can operate effectively, integrated in the ER environment rather than in the radiology suite, which is often found in another building or floor in the hospital.

“Producing an emergency room MRI requires that the system be easier to install and operate, more cost-effective and safer to manage, and must perform specifically to the medical requirements of imaging for strokes and other head trauma.” — BLAINE CHRONIK

Results

The systems currently being built using the new technology, designed to elucidate the structural connections within the brain, see a large increase in imaging performance over traditional MRI, translating into things such as better evaluation of stroke and improved surgical planning. With this technology, more stroke patients could see improved chances of recovery.

The capital outlay required to purchase and install MR systems using the Chronik lab’s technology is considerably diminished; the smaller, lighter systems used cost about half as much as a traditional full-body MRI due to their dramatically reduced installation expense. It enables MR to be easily integrated into the emergency room environment, significantly alleviating congestion and improving access for patients in urgent need of head imaging.

Strokes are among the most debilitating disorders. Costing Canadians over $2.5 billion annually, average rehabilitation and treatment exceed $50,000 per patient within the first year. The first systems containing the head-only MRI technology going into Canadian hospitals this year will offer the patient a more comfortable and user-friendly experience. Providing a highly-specific exam that significantly improves outcomes for victims of stroke and other head traumas. In Canada’s transition toward value-based healthcare, the head-only MRI system is paving the way for lower treatment costs and higher patient satisfaction.