Yes, I’ve not kept up with my blog postings as I usually do. I’d like to tell you that it was because I’ve been spending the last month or so sipping umbrella-drinks on a sunny beach somewhere, but that’s about the furthest thing from the truth. The fact is that there have been torrents of activity, but they’re all happening below the glassy surface. For example, the radiology press has been strangely silent about the most recent MRI fatality…
Just a few months ago a service engineer was replacing a fan-blower assembly in an MRI unit (a part that is notoriously ferromagnetic). Working alone in the suite in the evening, after the regular staff had left, the engineer had finished early… or that’s what the security guard thought when he called to her and got no reply.
Turns out that she had been struck and pinned to the MR scanner by the blower assembly, and was unconscious, if not already dead, when the guard checked to see if she was still there.
This tragic story is something of a departure from my typical mantra of patient and staff safety. Yes, this was a trained individual who knew about the risks of the MR environment and materials she was working with. And yes, this was a vendor, and not a hospital worker or patient. But this is a repeatable condition, and an accident which, because there have been MRI accidents involving such a tremendous variety of ferromagnetic materials, deserves a little analysis for a ‘lessons-learned’ output.
One of the (theorized) main contributing factors to this accident is the design of the magnet room. Since the advent of active shielding, we’ve seen MRI rooms go from the size of racquetball courts to office cubicles. In this case, the clearances around the magnet were uncomfortably tight, and what space there was between the magnet and the walls of the suite was purportedly infringed by shelves, storage and clutter.
By failing to provide an appropriately-sized room to accommodate not only the MRI unit itself, but also the service and storage needs, the layout may have substantially increased the likelihood of an accident.
And while conventional screening methodologies wouldn’t have helped in this particular scenario (the object already in the MRI room), it’s not like this is the only strange thing that has been brought into a MRI room to be ‘sucked’ into the scanner. Yes, we all know about oxygen tanks (well, apparently we don’t, as there was another one reported recently, here), but they aren’t all!
Personal computers, iPods, filing cabinets, desk chairs, anesthesia machines, cribs, gurneys, wheelchairs, dollies, staplers, power tools, axes, roller skates, ‘sand’ bags, hampers, mop-buckets, and the list goes on, and on, and on… All of these, and many, many more objects have found their way into MRI scanner rooms. Sometimes the people involved, like in the circumstances surrounding the recent fatality, know that they’re taking a risk. But at least as often the accident occurs because the person is unaware of what they’re doing.
The magnets don’t take vacations. They’re not on just when ‘taking the picture’. They’re not turned off for the night when the last patient is done for the day. The risks are omnipresent, which demands that we are equally vigilant about providing the appropriate protections for everyone and everything that approaches the MRI room.
In the weeks ahead, I hope to have information for you about some of the efforts in the works that may help codify some of these expectations at the point of care. Suffice it to say that right now, for the first time in the U.S., substantive consideration is being given to explicit MRI safety requirements at the point of care. This is still all in the formative stages, and lots of work remains to be done. But perhaps when it is, there’s an umbrella drink and sandy beach with my name on them.Tobias Gilk, President & MRI Safety Director Mednovus, Inc. Tobias.Gilk@Mednovus.com www.MEDNOVUS.com