MRI Projectile Accidents – One Exemplar

How to pick just one when there are a number of alarming, tragic, and needless MRI accidents to choose from? Let’s look at one that we can help the reader better imagine, the case of a pair of flying scissors that had to be surgically removed from a technologist’s forehead…

This is just one example of a laundry-list of serious projectile accidents that occurred in 2009.

I should note that the above isn’t a real X-ray of this injury, but hopefully it was ‘real enough’ to at least get you to swallow hard at the thought.

In this incident occurred when a technologist was positioning the patient on the table for the MRI exam. At that moment, the person who brought the patient to the MRI department entered the room with a pair of ferromagnetic scissors. The rest, as they say, is history.

But what about this one event makes it worth holding out as an example?

It, like the many other serious projectile injuries of last year, was completely avoidable. And the same is true for the burn injuries, and those that occurred as a result of incomplete clinical screening. These three causes are responsible for over 90% of the serious injuries in MRI.

Often these occur because the only accident protection in place is the vigilance of the technologist on duty (which, increasingly often, is only a single individual). When everything depends on that one, fallible, individual, the process will break down.

Effective clinical screening depends, in part, on the appropriate prescription of MR studies by primary care clinicians (more than half of which, according to a recent study, were unaware that medical implants were a contraindication for MRI exams). A review of the patient’s accurate medical records, effective pre-screening by scheduling staff, careful review of the patient’s screening form, all of which should be done to reduce the burden on the Technologist.

For burns, patients should be transported to MR without any extraneous monitors, equipment or devices. Upon arriving, they should be switched to MR Conditional monitoring equipment, as needed. The site should provide ample insulating and positioning pads to properly situate the patient for the exam. As with the preliminary screening steps, these will also reduce the burden on the Tech’s unblinking vigilance to prevent these types of accidents.

For projectiles, it isn’t realistic to keep a metal-free MRI suite. This means that the objects which can hurt patients or staff, and damage million-dollar scanners, are littered, like time-bombs, throughout our day. Changing patients, educating key support staff, implementing rigorous access controls, and using ferromagnetic detection can dramatically cut the risks associated with projectile accidents.

These preventative steps, above, have two things in common. First, their almost universally accepted as industry best practice. Second, they are universally omitted from any patient safety requirements! That’s right, no regulatory or accreditation body has objective standard requirements for screening, positioning, or projectile protection!

As long as these instances of head-piercing scissors, or leg-crushing gurney rides, or brain-damaging flying carts, or face-whalloping monitor panels, or any of the others, are viewed as just text descriptions of statistical aberrations, instead of easily-preventable human tragedies, we’ll stay stuck with ineffectual recommendations and scores of stupid, stupid injuries.

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

Click for Tobias Gilk's Twitter Profile Click here for Tobias’ Twitter Profile

4 thoughts on “MRI Projectile Accidents – One Exemplar

  1. Lamp Abi

    I was not aware of such accidents occurring in the MRI. That is very alarming and I hope this post will serve as a warning to everyone.

  2. Kris G

    I have found an alarmingly increasing carelessness among medical professionals in and around the MRI Suite. Ego plays the biggest part in accidental injury as it is nearly impossible for a doctor to heed the warnings of a technologist or any ancillary staff “beneath” them.

  3. christy healy

    I recently had an MRI and I had to have gen, anesthesia due to being closterfobic when I came out of the anesthesia my left breast was burning very badly it wound up with large blisters that broke in a couple of days and I am now on Antibiotic therapy and the areas still dont look good when I confronted the radioligy dept. they had no idea what happened the areas looked like three cigarette burns and are deep if anyone has any idea please respond

  4. Tobias Gilk Post author


    I’m sorry to be late in responding. What you describe is not very unusual and the MRI department should be aware of this. MRI uses radio waves (radio frequency, or RF) as a part of the imaging process. If you are too close to the transmitting part of the scanner, an area of your body can get too much RF and it can cause a burn. If you’d like further information, please contact me directly.


    Tobias Gilk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code