From the October 2019 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
By Jonathan Furuyama
In advanced imaging, generating high quality images and shortening scan times are paramount to success, and new advancements in AI are rapidly enabling further development of modalities such as MR technology.
Annually, there are almost 40 million MR scans in the U.S. MR is a robust market that is trending upward and continually inflating due to concerns about the radiation exposure seen across some other modalities.
Along with its lack of ionizing radiation, there’s considerable attention focused on MR because of its wide range of visualization capabilities, specifically with soft tissue contrast. For example, in a brain scan, we can see the difference between white and gray matter, something difficult to see in other modalities.
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MR scans require anywhere from 20-60 minutes (1-3 patients per hour), which is historically why the CT system, at three-to-five minutes, has been preferred. Among a slew of issues stemming from a slower scan, the time consumed in order to capture a clear image during an MR scan makes it difficult to capture a moving object like the heart, or an unsettled patient.
As a result of slower throughput, the number of reimbursements health care providers receive is very low compared to CT as well. The effects of a slow scan are not just on patient throughput and reimbursement, but patient comfort and image quality, which are all interconnected.
Prioritizing patient comfort
Approximately two million MR procedures cannot be performed or are prematurely terminated due to claustrophobia each year, resulting in lost productivity and financial costs for health care providers. Health care providers must seek new ways to reduce anxiety, claustrophobia, and stress related to MR exams, and more vendors are concentrating on developing scanners and accessories that are geared toward creating a calm, peaceful, and even enjoyable experience.
By putting patients at ease, clinicians can complete MR exams quickly and capture the high-quality images they need for confident diagnoses and treatment, reducing the need for patients to be sedated with medication to perform the exam.
The future of MR and the role of AI
Artificial intelligence (AI) is also a significant theme that’s being explored in the MR industry. One of the best applications of AI in imaging is that it enables us to produce better quality images that not only enable higher resolution, but also shorten scan times.
Both of these aspects are intertwined, as scans traditionally take longer in order to capture a clearer image. In addition, there is the issue of patient discomfort and movement, which can degrade image quality. AI technologies could mitigate this problem and capture better quality images, even if the patient is moving, by cleaning up artifacts, resulting in a higher quality image. This is still a theoretical application, but it is an area that vendors are significantly investing in over the coming years.
An even greater focus on patient comfort and AI
As MR technologies continue to evolve, AI and the patient experience will converge in ways that they never have before. Not only will new technologies cut down on scan times, produce better quality scans and put patients at ease, but they will be imperative to advancing MR as the preferred method of advanced imaging.
About the author: Jonathan Furuyama, Ph.D., MBA, is the managing director of the MR business unit for Canon Medical Systems USA, Inc.