AMSTERDAM - Open MRI of Amsterdam is the only place in the Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie County areas where a patient can receive a magnetic resonance image scan without being enclosed in a traditional tube MRI machine.
Marcie Holt, the center's physician liaison, said the center has been located in the Amsterdam Riverfront Center for seven years, but the biggest challenge it has faced in that time was getting the word of its existence out to the general public.
"Not a lot of people know we're here, so that's been a challenge," she said. "The doctor's offices know we're here, but not everyone does. We still get people, seven years later, saying, 'I didn't know you were there.'"
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Above, Vicki Musliner, an MRI technologist at Open MRI of Amsterdam, demonstrates the use of the Open MRI with Senior Office Specialist Megan Graham, using a coil for a Lumbar Study at the office Wednesday.
Open MRI opened in 2002, the first time an alternative to the traditional "tube MRI" was offered in the area. Even now, the nearest open MRI centers are located in the Albany or Glens Falls areas.
Holt said people come to the center from all three counties and beyond.
"We probably see people from Albany and Schenectady as well," Holt said.
Holt said the center is not affiliated with any of the major hospitals in the area, such as St. Mary's Hospital in Amsterdam or Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville, but it does have relationships with those hospitals.
"I think it decreases our business some," said Peter Holpermann, the director of medical imaging at St. Mary's Hospital.
When the patients are on the table, technologist Vicki Musliner is on the other side of the glass operating the machine and keeping the patient comfortable.
"I try to keep as much in contact with the patient as much as possible," Musliner said. " We try to make them as comfortable as possible to start off with. A lot of people are coming in with pain - back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain - and lying still, sometimes, is a real problem. We pride ourselves in keeping people in a very comfortable environment."
Musliner said another advantage of the open machine as opposed to the traditional unit is that family members can sit with the patient. Music also is played in the background during a test. The open machine can accommodate up to 500 pounds, where the tube MRI machine can only accommodate up to about 375 pounds, Holt said.
"We've had mothers that have been able to lie next to the child or baby [on the machine]," Musliner said.
It also helps if a patient is extremely claustrophobic.
Dr. Mike McBiles, a radiologist employed by Millennium Medical Imaging who reads at St. Mary's Hospital, said only 1 percent of the patients they receive are so claustrophobic that they need to be sent for an open scan.
Holt said that extra layer of comfort of having a family member by a patient's side and not being in a tunnel is part of the company's main mission, which she said is patient care.
The center also opens early and closes late, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, which Holt said is great for the "working class."
"Some people can't get time off, so we're here pretty late and there are children in school," she said. "So we can accommodate everybody."
Another staple, Holt said, is timeliness, which she said is instrumental in running a successful operation. In most cases, she said, the results of the scan can be sent to a physician within four to six hours.
Also, when a doctor calls, she said, the patient can get in on the same day to take the MRI.
However, another challenge, Holt said, when the center first opened is convincing people that the open technology works just as well as the traditional machine.
"It takes a lot to convince people," Holt said.
Some people in the radiology field still need some convincing.
"In general, the image quality coming off a 1.5 tesla magnet [that we have at the hosptal] is superior to that of a .3 tesla magnet,"?McBiles said.
McBiles said tesla refers to the strength of the magnetic field. Open MRI's machine has a .3 tesla magnetic field.
"I can say there are some applications where it's an equal magnet, but very few are superior to the magnet that we have here."
In 2003, Open MRI was accredited by the American College of Radiology, and it has met or exceeded national standard for patient care and image quality designated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Holt said that means the quality of the images that come from Open MRI's machine are able to be used by doctors to form a diagnosis.