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If you are opening an MRI centre in an area with insufficient and/or unreliable infrastructure, we do not recommend investing in a high-field MRI. This is a rule of thumb, så exceptions do occur. More on this in our blog post When Size Matters.
What we DO recommend is investing in a permanent MRI. This would typically be a 0.4T. In this blog post, we will elaborate on why we find permanent MRI solutions to be the smart choice. This goes for instance for many site locations on the African continent.
The key to understanding this is knowing the weakness of any high-field MRI, typically 1.5T. The soft spot of any 1.5T is the cooling chain. Because in case of a power cut, there is a serious risk this will fail. The magnet might even quench. A magnet quench results in the loss of all helium and the loss of the magnetic field. Then the ability to run the system gets lost.
Normally you can bring such a system can back to life, but it takes massive investments in helium. Often weeks of down-time too, as special tools, labour and helium need to get flown in.
On the contrary, a 0.4T doesn’t have helium cooling, as it is a permanent magnet. If you experience a power cut, you simply switch the system back on, when restoring power.
1 Buying a permanent MRI
First advantage: Your initial investment is low. Our clients often break even after about 1 year of operation.
The price for a state of the art “turnkey” 0.4T permanent magnet is mostly close to that of buying a 1.5T “as it is, where it is” out of a warehouse. For the 0.4T permanent magnet, that price includes a new RF cage, delivery, installation, calibration, warranty and application training.
Added to this comes the before mentioned plus a lot of helium, since your 1.5T would typically be delivered and installed warm. Depending on your location, it could easily add up to EUR 50k or more to cool down a 1.5T.
In short: The initial investment in an installed and operational 0.4T will cost you about half of that of a 1.5T.
Second advantage: The physical footprint of, for instance, a Hitachi Aperto 0.4T, is only 4*5 meters. On top, there is no need for an equipment room. The smaller RF shield is also a cost saver.
2 Owning a permanent MRI
It is not only the initial investment which is lower. The running costs with a permanent MRI are significantly lower than it is the case of a helium-cooled MRI too. The permanent design means no need for helium-cooling. As the price of helium is on the rise, with little to no perspective of it changing, this alone is a tangible reduction in the running costs.
If you are based in Africa, please also keep in mind helium is a scarce commodity registered as dangerous goods, which on top needs to get flown in. This brings even further expenses to a 1.5T.
A permanent system is also much cheaper to maintain. The running cost of open MRI is reasonable with no need to buy expensive periodic replacement parts and supplies. Also, the stable operation is assured, with no risk of the system quenching. In most cases, we would even say a traditional full-coverage service contract is overkill. A couple of preventive maintenance visits per year is all you need. This adds further to your savings.
Since the required power supply for eg. an APERTO 0.4T is only 10kw and a large-scale cubicle is not required, the monthly cost of electricity is very reasonable. So, compared to other systems, permanent magnets also save money for electrical power.
All this adds up to lower running costs when you buy a permanent MRI. The lifetime running costs are significantly lower. This contributes to our clients typically breaking even after 1-1,5 years.
3 Benefits for the patients
The open design of this diagnostic imaging equipment equals better comfort for patients. Especially for claustrophobic, children and bariatric patients. This because these scanners have smaller physical footprints and wider bores. Furthermore, a variety of configurations to maximize patient comfort and reduce claustrophobia
Minimizing patient claustrophobia is essential and not only for the comfort of the patient’s. It is also key to avoid image artefacts as a nervous patient will be more prone to movement during the scan. Fewer artefacts equal better pictures and, as such, the patient on average spends less time in the exam room. This also has the benefit of giving you time to scan more patients per day.
The only real disadvantage of a 0.4T is that it is not a 1.5T. For instance, a 1.5T will in many cases be a faster system. As such a 0.4T is not the best choice if you specialize in, for instance, cardiac exams.
But for about 99% of routine studies, it is a terrific technology which brings you great value and diagnostic power at a very attractive price point. This is for sure, the right choice of system for any small private clinic in Africa.