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From July 22 to July 28, McLean Hospital and institutions around the world will take part in MRI Safety Week. During the week, technologists, imaging professionals, and others will participate in events and activities aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of MRI safety. At the McLean Imaging Center (MIC), look for staff wearing “MRI Safety” t-shirts and offering guidance on their training and protocols.
Kathleen Thangaraj, chief technologist at the MIC, explains that MRI Safety Week was established in the early 2000s following a tragic incident in which a young boy was killed at an MRI facility in New York. Following the accident, Thangaraj said, “A thorough investigation was conducted at the facility. Subsequently, world-recognized MRI safety experts analyzed the findings, looked at root causes, and determined that a lack of training for not only MRI staff, but also non-MRI staff members, played a role in this death.” Since then, she said, “The American College of Radiology has updated safety guidance documents that include corrective measures towards preventing this type of accident from occurring at all MRI facilities.”
Over the years, she said, “MRI facilities around the world have worked to improve safety, education, and public awareness, with a lot of progress.” For example, Thangaraj explained, there has been an increase in articles, webinars, and training opportunities concerning MRI safety in recent years. Also, she said, annual MRI conferences often include sessions on safety, and some offer certificate programs on MRI safety.
McLean has kept pace with this progress. “I’d say that McLean and all of the Partners institutions are on the cutting edge of safety,” she said. She explained that Partners HealthCare’s recent move to the Epic electronic health records platform included strong provisions regarding MRI screening and safety. “In anticipation of Epic implementation, the chief technologists across all Partners entities created an MRI screening protocol for use across all of Partners,” Thangaraj said. “We are all using the same system. It streamlines the process, and it improves safety because everyone handles information the same way.” In addition, she said, “We have state-of-the-art screening tools to help us determine the location of a foreign object, which is helpful if a patient forgets to report a prior medical event. However, since these devices are not 100% reliable, our best screening tool is accurate information.”
At McLean, she said, extra steps are taken to ensure safety. This includes the creation of the MRI Safety Committee and the development of mandatory training for researchers. The training protocol requires prospective researchers to watch a video on safety, study the hospital’s comprehensive MRI safety manual, and pass a written test, while the safety committee meets regularly to develop new safety guidelines, discuss situations in which incidents may be likely to occur, and review access to the scanning suites.
Screening for patients is also thorough and strict. Thangaraj said that everyone who comes to McLean for a scan must undergo “a full screening process to find out what they may have in their bodies, such as shrapnel or metal that may have been introduced either because of surgeries or accidents.” The McLean team also looks for non-metal materials that may be in the body, and they take steps to guard against burns. “It turns out that the greater number of injuries across all MRI facilities are from burns rather than from projectile objects,” Thangaraj said.
The MIC team also focuses on medical histories to keep people safe. “We ask detailed questions about implants and injuries, and we take into account the type of scan requested—everything we need to make a full evaluation,” she said. However, given the sensitive nature of McLean’s varied clinical populations, evaluating patient histories can be challenging. “Because of an individual’s psychiatric history, we may not be getting a complete picture of their medical history,” Thangaraj said. “We need help from staff at the programs to acquire accurate information. To keep people safe, we need to take the greatest care we can when we evaluate patients.”
To learn more about MRI safety at McLean Hospital, contact our technologists at 617.855.3635.