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Philips hits the highway with big ironon tour with 1.5-tesla mobile MRI unit

Philips hits the highway with big ironon tour with 1.5-tesla mobile MRI unit

NT Mobile scanner travels fully ramped up

Philips Medical Systems hopes to inject some life into the mobile MRI industry by releasing a transportable version of its 1.5-tesla Gyroscan ACS-NT scanner. The magnet is unique among 1.5-tesla systems in that it is capable of traveling at field, reducing set-up time to a matter of minutes.

Philips, of Shelton, CT, sent a 1.5-tesla NT Mobile on tour last month to showcase its capabilities. The scanner logged some 7400 miles on a tour that lasted six weeks, and traveled fully ramped up the entire time, according to Joe Nagle, product manager for mobile MRI.

The development of mobile 1.5-tesla MRI has been hampered because the magnetic fields of previous 1.5-tesla mobile scanners must be ramped down while traveling. This avoids interference with moving metal objects in the environment, which can disrupt the homogeneity of the scanner's magnetic field. It then takes several hours to ramp up the magnet once it has reached its destination.

In 1993 Philips debuted the NT scanners, which were notable for their compact size and light weight (SCAN 12/29/93). Intermagnetics General supplied Philips with the compact magnets, but Philips also developed technology for the line that provides a means of primary field compensation, ensuring that the homogeneity of the magnet stays constant even if there are moving metal objects nearby. The technology makes siting the NT scanners easier in stationary settings but provides even greater advantages for mobile MRI.

"The system is much less sensitive to moving ferric objects, such as automobiles and trucks," Nagle said. "It's not as sensitive as previous magnets have been."

NT Mobile is identical to a standard 1.5-tesla NT and can perform all the sequences the stationary magnet is capable of, including 1024 x 1024 imaging, echo-planar imaging and GRASE. The only application it does not support is spectroscopy, due primarily to logistical issues such as reimbursement.

Philips decided to put NT Mobile on tour to dispel doubts about 1.5-tesla mobile imaging. Past efforts have had disappointing results, according to Chris Farr, director of marketing for MRI.

"In the past one of the big companies had a 1.5-tesla mobile. It was a disaster," Farr said. "What we wanted to show was not only that this machine was truly mobile, but that there was no compromise on capabilities or performance."

On NT Mobile's summer tour, Philips employed a truck manufactured by Calumet Coach of Calumet City, IL. The system can also be configured in mobile vans manufactured by Ellis and Watts of Batavia, OH. Additional shielding in the magnet's trailer confines the magnet's five-gauss line entirely within the trailer walls.

Philips also placed a 3M DryView 8700 dry laser printer in the mobile van. The printer obviated the need to have film sent outside the van for developing, making mobile imaging even more practical.

Philips believes NT Mobile will help revive the mobile imaging segment, which has experienced a shakeout in recent years as many smaller hospitals once on mobile routes acquire their own scanners. Many of these hospitals have acquired mid-field magnets to avoid the cost of 1.5-tesla systems, but still have a need for high-field imaging.

"What has happened in MRI is that a 0.5-tesla machine can be afforded by even quite small community hospitals," Farr said. "This 1.5-telsa scanner is bringing a level of technology to these hospitals that there is absolutely no way they could afford on their own."

Philips is in discussions with mobile firms, many of whom need to replace older mid-field MRI scanners in their fleets and would welcome the opportunity to offer 1.5-tesla scanning. The company believes it will ship as many as 10 NT Mobiles by the end of the year.

Other potential customers include large hospital chains that have purchased smaller suburban hospitals and would rather set up a mobile route between the smaller hospitals than install a new 1.5-tesla scanner in each facility, Farr said.

"What this provides them with is the ability to take the same kind of technology as they have at their home base and offer it as an outreach service," Farr said.


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