Gurney Crashes MRI, Patient Injured, Hospital Fined $50K

It is the stuff of fabled oral-histories, often dismissed as MRI urban-legend. The patient is wheeled into the MRI room on a gurney that goes flying toward the scanner. “How on Earth could these accidents happen when we know about these risks,” the skeptics question? Almost never does more than a single fragment of information surface about these sorts of accidents and, without verification, nearly all accounts can be erroneously written-off as fiction. Or, that was until enough pieces fell into place to conclusively document a recent episode…

Many people in the medical industry, even within radiology, are quick to dismiss stories of accidents in the MRI suite as ‘fish stories’ which, though they may be based on a kernel of truth from the original telling, grow and grow as the story gets passed along the line. What may have begun as a pager getting drawn into the MRI scanner, winds up becoming a telephone repairman… or so goes the rationalization. And some seem to think that most MRI accident stories aren’t even really exaggerations, but rather pure fiction, akin to what you would see on some nighttime television medical drama. To these people, any account of a patient bed hitting the MRI could only have come from an episode of ER (as opposed to a real accident having become the basis of the TV show’s fictionalized version)…


Not that there haven’t been cases of gurneys drawn to MRI scanners before, because the MRI professional communities are awash in stories of all manners of ferromagnetic materials inadvertently becoming MRI-homing magnet missiles. Everything from personal computers, iPods, pagers, cell phones, anesthesia machines, ‘sand’ bags, medical gas (oxygen) cylinders, welding tanks, rolling carts, wheelchairs, hand-tools, canes & walkers, furniture, filing cabinets, hand-trucks, and the list goes on, and on, and on (to see pictures of a number of items, please check out this prior post). And yes, even hospital gurneys…

MRI Scanner Eats an ICU Patient Bed

Much to my chagrin, I’ve heard people dismiss the above as somebody’s Photoshop fantasy. Those sorts of statements, sadly, work to diminish all efforts toward MRI safety. But a recent account should, permanently, put to rest any question of whether this sort of thing can really happen. Late last year I posted a story that included links to a number of FDA MRI accident reports. One of the reports to the FDA’s MAUDE database described an incident in which a patient had their foot-ankle-leg injured when they were transported into the MRI scanner room on a conventional gurney (click here to download the PDF file from the FDA’s data). The date in the FDA’s anonymized report coincides very nicely with this somewhat-less-than-anonymous newspaper article that just came out…

Hoag Hospital has been fined $50,000 by the state Department of Public Health after an MRI patient on a metal gurney was magnetically pulled into the imaging machine, the hospital said Friday.

[Dr. Richard] Afable, [chief executive officer of Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian], said that last January a woman was taken into an MRI room on a metal gurney that was not compatible with the machine. The powerful magnet in the MRI pulled the gurney into the machine and the patient’s leg was trapped for about three minutes. She was taken to the emergency room and spent three days in the hospital for treatment of fractures in her lower leg and foot.

The above quote is taken from the January 22nd, 2009 article appearing on the Orange County Register’s website (click here to go straight to the article). Based on the dates, the description of the accident, and the patient injuries, it sounds as if the FDA account is the same incident as what is described in this newspaper article. The $50,000 fine may sound like steep punishment, but considering the cost to restore the magnet after the quench (described in the FDA account), the cost of downtime and lost revenue between the accident and the time the MRI was returned to service, the cost of care to treat the patient, the cost of internal safety / quality / regulatory investigations, the legal costs for the hospital, and any lawsuit settlement costs, the state’s penalty is likely to just be icing on the cake. The cost to the hospital for this transgression could very easily be into 7-figures! All of this simply demonstrates two critical points about MRI safety.

  1. MRI accidents do happen, and at greater frequency and cost than many are led to believe.
  2. The costs of the safety provisions to help prevent these accidents are peanuts when compared to the costs of accidents.

My soap-box pontificating on this point will likely become moot over the next many months. In a ‘perfect storm’ of regulatory and accreditation attention to MRI safety, we’re very likely to see requirements for MRI safety provisions, such as ferromagnetic detectors (which could have been instrumental in helping to avoid this gurney accident). I will share more about each of these efforts, as I’m able. In the meantime, MRI providers should put a great deal more stock in the validity of MRI accidents accounts and ask themselves, “Do I have adequate physical protections in place, beyond what’s written in my policy manual, to help prevent this sort of accident?” The likely answer is “No.”

Tobias Gilk, President & MRI Safety Director
Mednovus, Inc.

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4 thoughts on “Gurney Crashes MRI, Patient Injured, Hospital Fined $50K

  1. Pingback: Gurney Crashes MRI, Patient Injured, Hospital Fined $50K « MRI …

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  3. metal bending

    Accidents do happen, do matter how many precautions are taken. Sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous, but never completely preventable. This story should not come as such a big surprise. If it was happening all the time, it would be shocking. But that a rare occurrence could happen should be expected.

  4. Davin

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