MRI Safety Resolution

I’m not big on New Years’ resolutions. In fact, I’ve previously resolved to not resolve… but today I’m breaking that vow (or would that be a ‘disavow’?). This year there are just too many things precariously poised — that could fall our way or not — that I can’t help but to resolve to rededicate myself to making substantive changes to industry standards and practices for MR safety, and here’s how I’m going to do it…

The Joint Commission (TJC or, to those of us schooled in their acronym more than 3 years ago, JCAHO): TJC has just referenced the 2010 edition of the Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities as the new design and construction standard (effective today). The 2010 Guidelines codifies a number of the MR safety recommendations that have passed from the Joint Commission’s own lips and makes them standards for new construction. In 2011 I will apply whatever cajoling, leveraging, sweet-talking, or shaming that will help the Joint Commission to apply it’s own standards to the thousands of existing MRIs at TJC accredited providers. This began last year with training provided to TJC’s ambulatory care surveyors, forestalled and rebuffed offers of the same for their hospital surveyors.

Centers for Medicare / Medicaid (CMS): At least somewhat in response to the public attention that was focused on the issues of radiology / nuclear medicine safety through the ongoing series of articles by Walt Bogdanich of the New York Times, in 2010 CMS began development of a set of radiology / nuclear medicine patient safety standards that they intend to roll-out as a condition of reimbursement. It is anticipated that these will be unveiled in the spring for public comment before being enacted some time later. I know that, last year, MR safety proposals were presented to CMS, and at the anticipated public meeting I will seek to make sure that the single largest healthcare benefits provider in the US includes substantive MR safety standards.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Quick as they were to arrange public hearings on radiology safety (after the first couple Bogdanich articles saw print), the FDA has been ‘in the planning and coordination’ stages of a similar meeting on MRI safety for well over six months. Originally proposed for last year September, the prospective date has been nudged enough times that, as of my last inquiry, they’ve stopped even suggesting months, or even seasons, and I was last left with the promise of ‘sometime in 2011… hopefully the first half…’ I will endeavor to see that this meeting takes place (perhaps in concert with the CMS meeting), because I know that smart, capable people within the FDA have done analyses of MRI accidents and have developed an MR safety ‘short list’ of preventions which the FDA has yet to release, to say nothing of promulgate or endorse. Sitting on effective safety solutions when the accident rate is quadrupling is… well… inconceivable.

American College of Radiology (ACR): At the ACR’s presentation at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Healthcare Radiology Administrators (AHRA), the ACR representatives announced that the organization was going to incorporate MR safety standards from it’s own ACR Guidance Document for Safe MR Practices: 2007 in the ACR’s MR accreditation program. In 2010 I was privately told by a very well-placed person within the ACR that the new CMS oversight of the MIPPA accreditation process made it ‘logistically onerous’ to change the existing MR accreditation program (this despite the fact that the ACR was pleased to submit to CMS — and receive prompt approval for — an entirely new breast MR accreditation program). In 2011 we expect to see a new edition of the Guidance Document, which will make the fourth publication appearing under the ACR’s name that speaks to effective solutions for the reduction of MR accidents… and the fourth one that the ACR will have not included as an element of their own MR accreditation program. Whether it’s through meaningful standards passed down from CMS, or by reversing the apparent hypocrisy of the ACR, itself, I will spend 2011 working to see that substantive MR safety standards are incorporated as a part of the ACR’s MR accreditation program.

So what is the monster-list of standards that would be necessary to mitigate the vast majority of MRI accidents and injuries? Well, it turns out that it isn’t long at all, and all of these are already promulgated as best practice recommendations…

  1. Provide annual MR safety training for all MR personnel (and MR irregulars)
  2. Restrict access to controlled areas of the MR suite for unscreened / unsupervised persons and untested equipment per the ACR 4-zone model
  3. Provide uniform and documented screening for all persons entering controlled areas of the MR suite
  4. Screen persons and objects with a ferromagnetic-only detector before allowing access to controlled areas of MR suite
  5. Provide hearing protection (and ensure proper usage) for all persons remaining in the magnet room during the MR exam
  6. Use positioning aids and insulating pads as recommended to separate the MR patient from RF elements and conductive materials (including their own tissues)

These six items would likely cut the rates of MR accidents by more than 90%! These items have also been recommended (or very similar elements) by the Joint Commission, ACR, and others. If they were enforced, however, we could very nearly eliminate MR accidents in governed facilities!

Getting us to enforcement, that is my 2011 New Year’s Resolution, but I won’t make it there alone. Can I count on you to work on this with me?

Tobias Gilk,
President & MRI Safety Director — Mednovus, Inc.
Sr. Vice President —

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One thought on “MRI Safety Resolution

  1. Hugo D. Howell

    Though ACR is one of the accrediting bodies from which CMS mandates that outpatient participants must obtain accreditation, it’s still one of three. While ACR is seeking to ‘make the pie bigger’ by advocating for mandatory accreditation of more modalities than just CT, MRI, and PET and for accreditation of hospital-based imaging, nuclear medicine and radiation therapy, they’re also looking at their proportional slice of that pie. Were they to unilaterally decide on MR safety enhancements to their accreditation program, it might make providers looking for the lowest-threshold CMS accreditation steer clear of ACR. I suspect that the ACR’s thinking goes that, by enacting MR safety standards, they’re likely to lose prospective members and the revenue that their participation in the ACR’s accreditation program provides.

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