par Carol Ko
, Staff Writer | October 08, 2013
With hurricane season upon us in New York City, hospitals that went through a baptism by fire during last year's Hurricane Sandy should be older, wiser and more prepared to face any natural disasters that threaten their MRI systems this year.
Of all imaging equipment used in hospitals, MRIs are particularly vulnerable to the ravages of nature, since power outages escalate the system's helium boil-off rate.
If the helium levels get low enough, it may eventually lead to a magnet quench, causing permanent damage to the scanner.
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To help hospitals avoid such a fate, manufacturers like GE, Siemens and Hitachi now offer monitoring technology that has the power to control hospital MRI systems remotely.
Last year, GE Healthcare's technology managed 250 magnets in hospitals along the East Coast during Hurricane Sandy. With the help of a national weather map, the company was able to determine which of its MRI systems lay in the path of the storm two or three days before the hurricane was set to make landfall.
Staff at GE Healthcare's customer service made adjustments to these MRI systems to place them into a low-operating-pressure hibernation setting that extends the magnetic field properties for a much longer period of time.
John McCabe, product service director for MRI at GE Healthcare, was prepared for the possibility that these hospitals might not recover power for a while, having learned from the unpredictable twists and turns of previous natural disasters.
"From Katrina, we knew it might be a day, or it might be two weeks," he told DOTmed News.
During the storm, McCabe was at the helm of a wide-scale network of data centers where thousands of GE devices and systems were monitored and analyzed. "We controlled these MRI systems from our laptops, basically," he said.
Such services are part of a larger paradigm shift in how manufacturers and customers approach equipment service contracts these days. "Maybe five years ago, we measured our system availability based on whether the system was running or not," said McCabe.
Now, customers are demanding even more. "They're now saying, 'your system has to not only be available, but it must be ready for any condition,'" said McCabe. "Don't wait for us to contact you — we want you to call us and anticipate whether our system is going to be going down."
With the advent of health care reform, hospitals expect manufacturers to proactively monitor and anticipate any system shortfalls so they can make full use of their purchase.
For instance, if a hospital's coil is in need of servicing, customers now want to get a heads up from the manufacturer so they can head off unnecessary downtime rather than waiting for the machine to break down.
In turn, hospitals can avoid turning away patients and risking lower patient satisfaction. "That's part of the reimbursement equation," said McCabe.