A new portable MRI machine is opening up a world of possibilities for our patients at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) creates a detailed map of the body that can help doctors diagnose diseases and injuries. Traditional MRI units can weigh five tons or more and generate strong magnetic fields that require special medical suites for safe use.
This fall, M Health Fairview began a trial of a new portable MRI machine – the Hyperfine® Swoop® Portable MR Imaging System™. This technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) to convert the signals detected by the MRI into detailed pictures of the brain. Physicians depend on these images for treatment decisions. The use of AI with MRI technology allows meaningful images to be extracted from weaker signals. Because of this, an accurate scan can be performed with a smaller magnet and weaker magnetic field – which means the MRI machine can safely travel around the hospital and to a patient’s bedside.
M Health Fairview is the only health system in Minnesota, and one of only a handful nationwide to trial this leading-edge technology.
Traditional MRI technology
The invention of the MRI was recognized with a Nobel Prize in 2003. It has revolutionized how medicine is practiced by allowing doctors to “see” into the human body and make treatment decisions based on this information. Traditionally, this requires MRI machines to create a magnetic field up to 60,000 times stronger than that of the Earth. This strong magnetic field can attract nearby metallic metal objects, posing a risk if proper precautions aren’t taken. For this reason, MRI machines are located in dedicated medical suites where special measures are taken to avoid such hazards.
The fact that traditional MRI machines need to be in specialized suites limits who can receive scans.
“Many patients are too sick to transport at times that an MRI is needed. Even for healthier patients, transport poses risks,” said M Health Fairview Neurosurgeon Clark C. Chen, MD, PhD. “This portable MRI machine eliminates the need to transport patients to the MRI. Instead, the MRI comes to them.”
During traditional MRI scans, patients are also alone in the suite without the support of their friends or family. With the new portable MRI, patients can have their support system in the room during a scan, which can be especially helpful for young patients.
M Health Fairview’s portable MRI trial started in October. So far, we have safely performed MRI scans in various hospital settings – including the emergency department, intensive care unit, post-anesthesia area, and the neurology/neurosurgery inpatient unit.
Patients who receive a scan from the portable MRI during our trial also receive a scan from our traditional MRI machine. This way, clinicians can compare the results.
“We are carefully evaluating the images from this portable unit and comparing them to traditional MRI and computerized tomography (CT) scans to ensure that patient care is not compromised,” said Chen.
Before the portable MRI machine arrived in October, Chen and his team had dedicated months to planning, preparing, and training staff ahead of the trial – with support from M Health Fairview leadership to test out and help advance this new technology. At the end of the trial, Chen and his team will decide if and how to integrate this new technology into our patient care going forward.
“At M Health Fairview, we have established a culture that prioritizes innovation and the care of tomorrow. We’re doing this trial so our children can have access to something like this in the future,” said Chen. “This trial demonstrates how the evolution of AI has altered the landscape of clinical care, and our feedback will shape this evolution.”
Chen is excited about portable MRI technology because of the future possibilities it could open up for patients – potentially outside of the hospital.
“Continued development of this technology means that someday clinicians could bring a portable MRI machine to wherever an MRI scan is needed,” said Chen.
The portable MRI will be trialed at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center and M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital for a six-month period.