Hospital gets funding to upgrade MRI

Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2007

Central Peninsula Hospital will spend up to $175,000 to upgrade its magnetic resonance imaging machine.

Resolution 2007-070, passed Tuesday by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, authorizes the hospital to purchase a Sprint-Quantum Gradient Upgrade (software) for its Siemens Magnetom Symphony MRI machine.

The current gradient configuration of the hospital's MRI machine has insufficient image quality and capabilities, and in its current configuration cannot be improved, said Mark Fowler, borough purchasing and contracting officer, in a memo to the assembly.

"Future upgrades to the MRI to accommodate women's health issues such as breast imaging and MRI-guided biopsies, and future options to enhance MRI vascular studies would not be possible without a gradient upgrade," he said.

CPGH Inc.'s board of directors approved the purchase in late August. That was followed Sept. 17 by approval from the Central Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board. The expenditure would come from service area funds.

Hospital CEO Ryan Smith said Monday that the hospital's current MRI was purchased in 2004 and will be completely depreciated in 2009. Current plans call for it to be replaced.

Dennis Ghormley, imaging supervisor for the hospital, said the software upgrade, in and of itself, will enhance the current machine's abilities only slightly, perhaps providing image quality and speed improvements that only a physician would notice.

"But it's a first step for add-ons down the road that would give us better imaging capabilities," he said.

The MRI is a 1.5 Tesla (a measure of its magnetic power) device and as capable as any in the state except for a new machine in Anchorage rated at 3 Tesla. Ghormley said the "jury is out" on how much better that machine might be.

How much better improved models built in 2009 or beyond might be compared to the current model is a good question without an adequate answer today, Ghormley said. Future models might well include or even outstrip capabilities the hospital intends to reach with its current machine through future add-ons. The pace of technological advance being what it is, spending $175,000 for the upgrade and more in the near future is a calculated risk.

"This is a stop-gap keeping us current up until we get a new machine," Ghormley said.

Still, it may be a risk worth taking considering what the upgrade could mean in the near future. For example, Smith said the hospital has a Denali Commission grant that would give the MRI machine computer-aided breast cancer detection abilities, but that upgrade cannot be installed until the Sprint-Quantum Gradient upgrade software is installed first.

Smith and Ghormley said the new software won't take long to acquire and install, but there will be a period of training for machine users. They agreed that the new system should be fully operational by the end of the year, perhaps sooner.

South Peninsula Hospital also has a 1.5 Tesla MRI machine. It isn't clear if the two machines compete for patients, but the more capable hospitals are on the peninsula, the more likely peninsula residents will be able to stay nearer home when receiving such services, rather than going to Anchorage, Smith noted.

Smith, and South Peninsula Hospital CEO Charlie Smith, said officials of the two hospitals have discussed ways to coordinate their efforts.

Hal Spence can be reached at

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