HealthBiz: New MRI system debuts at Mayo

By ELLEN BECK, United Press International

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- The next generation magnetic resonance imaging system -- larger and more open, but still as powerful as its smaller cousin -- is debuting this week at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.

This 1.5 Tesla Espree MRI system, made by Siemens Medical Solutions, has a larger bore or opening to accommodate obese patients and those who are claustrophobic. The 1.5 Tesla feature is the key -- that is the standard in the industry for power to deliver the best-quality MRI pictures for medical diagnoses.


Patients who cannot fit into the standard MRI systems featuring the 1.5 Tesla could get an MRI but the open systems used with these patients have low-field magnets -- about 0.7 Tesla. With MRIs, the higher the Tesla the better the image quality.

Claustrophobic patients can use MRIs under sedation, but it means more inconvenience and time to do an exam.


The new Espree unit has an opening nearly 2.3 feet in diameter and almost 1 foot of free space between a patient's head and the magnet. It also has the shortest 1.5 Tesla magnet available -- 4 feet -- which is important because it allows more than 60 percent of exams to be done with a patient's head outside the bore, also helping to ease claustrophobia.

The Espree features a total imaging matrix or TIM technology that also reduces the time it takes for the entire MRI procedure.

The new MRI could be a popular option for anyone who thinks MRIs are just a bit confining -- not just those who physically need some extra room.

"A lot of patients are going to request this," Dr. Jerald Pietan, chairman of the clinic's department of radiology, told UPI's HealthBiz. "For me, it's going to be a dilemma. Patients are going to prefer this."

Erich Reinhardt, chief executive officer for Siemens Medical Solutions, told HealthBiz the Mayo system will be among several test sites for the Espree before it goes to market in February 2005. He said the next few months will be needed to "develop clinical protocols" for using the new system.


"We think we can cover more or less all of the clinical applications that are required," he said.


The University of Illinois at Chicago has unveiled the world's most powerful magnetic resonance imaging machine -- at 9.4 Tesla -- for research purposes. It is capable of scanning the anatomy and metabolism within the brain to help scientists understand how the brain works -- hopefully detecting diseases before clinical signs appear and designing new therapies to treat them.

The MRI was built by GE Healthcare, part of General Electric Co.


The Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Health Workforce Monday recommended America's educational system -- along with medical colleges and schools -- work harder to recruit and train minority physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers.

The commission was created in April 2003 through the Duke University School of Medicine, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and led by Dr. Louis Sullivan, a former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and former U.S. Senator Majority Leader Bob Dole.

"The problem of racial and health disparities and a lack of minorities in health professions are inescapably linked," Sullivan told attendees at a briefing on the report in Washington.


"The lack of a diverse and culturally competent workforce may be as great a problem for minorities as is lack of health insurance," he said.

The commission made 37 recommendations after analyzing studies, holding a town meeting and hosting six field hearings on the issue.

Sullivan said the entire health profession culture must change and medical schools must re-examine their practices because classes with only one or two minority students are "out of step" with today's realities.

Dr. Patricia Gabow, chief executive officer of Denver Health, said her urban safety net and teaching hospital daily confronts the problems of having mostly minority patients but not having enough minority professionals.

"It is stunningly clear that we must quickly find these missing persons," she said. "It is clear to me every day we have a major healthcare workforce shortage."

She said for the minority patient community the three key factors in quality healthcare include access to care, culturally competent care and no racial disparities in the care provided.


A report from research and consulting firm Decision Resources Inc. shows more than 90 percent of HMO pharmacy directors and physicians believe off-label prescribing is OK to help treat arthritis pain.


The report, Arthritis Pain Management: Current Medical Practice and Future Evolution of the Market, shows the most common off-label drugs prescribed to treat arthritic pain are anti-epileptics and antidepressants.

The study finds arthritis treatment advertising reaches from 55 percent to 75 percent of patients with Pfizer's Celebrex and Merck's Vioxx the most frequently remembered ads. Only 15 percent to 25 percent of patients, however, request an arthritis pain drug from their doctor based on ad.

The survey included 25 HMO pharmacy directors, some 150 physicians and more than 360 patients.


In this consumer-driven health era it's good for people to have a map of where they are going. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota's BluePrint for Health is one solution, offering employee/consumers the chance to create a personal profile assessment, get a tailored, personalized heath report, participate in follow-up health programs and track their progress.

The personal profile assesses 23 health topics such as exercise, nutrition, safety, and behavior change with a specific emphasis on employee productivity and mental health. Action plans are created for employees based on their readiness to change.

Companies receive an aggregate report analyzing the overall health of their workforce with recommendations to help support employees. The company also gets reports that measure improvements on a yearly basis.



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