According to the United States Census Bureau, by 2030, seniors are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. As people live longer, more of them will likely need MRI or medical imaging scans to diagnose illness or disease during their lifetime. Journal of the American College of Radiology studies also show that MRI usage in emergency rooms, for issues like urinary calculus and headaches, has been on a steady rise since 1996.
The good news is that increased use of MRI means hospitals will get more return on their investment in this technology. However, considering the increase in demand, hospitals will want to avoid downtime due to MRI issues or failure by making sure they increase the frequency of preventive maintenance (PM) on their equipment.
While OEMs suggest conducting PM on MRI equipment every six months, to maintain undisrupted workflow during this era of increased use, PM schedules should be updated to a quarterly routine to help ensure that machines are functioning properly.
Some hospitals might have additional MRI equipment that doesn’t get used as frequently. The assumption might be that less use of equipment means less need for PM, but that is not the case. In fact, machines that sit dormant for an extended time might be more susceptible to unknown issues because they don’t have frequent visual monitoring through regular use. Conducting PM on a quarterly schedule on all machines will help ensure equipment is working properly and will continue running smoothly.
During regular MRI use, engineers and technicians should watch for any signs or imaging artifacts that aren’t prohibitive to use, but warrant further review during PM. If an image can’t be read, don’t wait for the PM to see what might be causing the issue. Troubleshoot the issue immediately as this may be a sign of something serious.
Full PM instructions for specific MRI machines can be found in training materials that accompany imaging equipment, but there are some general yet important guidelines to keep in mind.
The most critical component of an MRI system is the magnet helium systems vessel and should always be thoroughly reviewed during PM. A subzero temperature must be maintained, or the magnet will quench, which can cause substantial damage, loss and expense. Make sure to evaluate the top and surrounding areas of the vessel for ice and condensation, which is a major indication that there is a leak in the helium system and will require additional troubleshooting to determine the source of the issue.
To achieve efficient and reliable performance from the magnet system, the adsorber must be replaced according to the scheduled interval required by the model of the compressor in use.
Follow the appropriate replacement procedure for each particular machine to prevent contamination of the helium flex lines and cold head.
At every PM interval, check the magnet pressure and confirm it is within the system’s specifications. The magnet pressure gauge should read 1.3 psi(g). The magnet pressure can also be read from the service software (SeSo), where the “Magnet & Cooling” status should read 15.3 psi(a). The SeSo also contains a variety of detailed magnet system information.
The patient fan filter within the magnet bore should also be checked during PM and the air filter should be cleaned and replaced as needed.
The cooling system operation is also vital to the MRI and keeps the components that require water cooling working efficiently. While performing system connections and hose checks, also check the TAS for leaks, which is mounted overhead at the filter panel. The primary and secondary strainer/filter should also be cleaned or replaced as necessary during PM.
Checking the gradient system can prevent unnecessary service and possible image quality problems. It’s important to check all fans per axis at the gradient filters and verify their operability during every PM interval. If one or two fans on an axis are defective, the fans should be replaced. If all three fans on an axis are defective, the corresponding gradient filter is considered damaged due to overheating and should be replaced along with the fan assembly.
Lastly, the fan box in the GPA, which helps eliminate heat generated by power stages and output chokes, contains five fans which need to be checked for operability to make sure they’re working properly.
While each system has its own PM specifications, ultimately, protecting the magnet system, keeping components cool, checking for leaks and cleaning or replacing components are the critical steps that need to be accomplished during PM. Conducting PM on a quarterly schedule might seem like a lot of work to add to an already busy schedule, but it can save the burden and costs of downtime.
Downtime affects patients, who will need to find another facility. It raises operating costs as it affects the facility, physician and radiology personnel’s work schedules. Physicians and other staff might transfer to different locations because too much downtime impacts their schedules. If medical imagining equipment is getting more use, now is the time to put more attention toward taking care of it.
As the growing population continues to live longer, health care facilities will continue to use MRI more frequently. By increasing the PM on MRI equipment to a quarterly schedule, hospitals will be able to confidently serve the growing population in the years to come.
Joseph Sam is an imaging support engineer/trainer with Technical Prospects.
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