PUBLISHED: 4:44 PM on Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Juneau offers two new MRI machines, speedy turnaround time
As Juneau continues to expand with new super stores and selection, other options are now available medical wise. On Aug. 6, the Juneau Bone & Joint Center opened, offering a variety of services to local, Southeast Alaskans and visitors. The center is located in the old Valley Medical Care building, at 3220 Hospital Drive, Suite 101, and was remodeled from the ground up.

The center, made up of doctors who funded the project out of their own pockets, includes orthopedic surgeons Dr. Rick Bozarth, Dr. Daniel Hurrah, Dr. Ted Schwarting, Dr. Alan Gross, MD and also Dr. John Bursell of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

While it's right down the road from Bartlett Regional Hospital, patients have options at the center.

Photo by Abby LaForce
  Pictured from left: John P. Bursell, MD, Alan S. Gross, MD and Daniel R. Harrah, MD,pose with the magnetic resonance imaging machine at Juneau Bone & Joint Center. Not pictured are Ted L. Schwarting, MD and Gordon R. Bozarth, MD.
"One of the reasons we all wanted to come into the practice together, is we wanted to create a dynamic. We wanted to pull all the best things from each other along with all the assets that we could, to create a center of excellence-an area where we could practice and create the best muscle skeletal care possible and put everything we could under one roof," Bozarth said.

And, under that roof is physical therapy, an MRI and a radiology suite, he said.

"We use it so frequently, and it's such a vital part of our practice. From the inception, we wanted to build a clinic that was full-function as far as radiology, and an MRI went with our practices," he said.

The model is a General Electric 8-channel 1.5 TESLA, and about the size of a Buick, he said. The cost of the MRI was not disclosed.

"It's state of the art; there's nothing like it here in Southeast Alaska," Bozarth said.

Equipped with all the bells and whistles, it's powerful, an updated unit and has a greater clarity resolution, he said.

The model also has a board diameter of 60 cm. and can carry 350 pounds.

"The board diameter has gone progressively greater; it used to be like shoving you in a lunchbox to scan," he said.

At Bartlett Regional Hospital, a new MRI has also been installed February of this year.

According to Frank Sis, technologist and special imaging coordinator, the older MRI was sold and traded in for the newer model, a Siemens ESPREE 1.5 TESLA.

"It has the capabilities to do eight-channel high resolution parallel imaging and has the newest software version to enhance our scanning and imaging capabilities," Sis said.

He said it serves Southeast, including patients from Yakutat, Haines, Skagway and Petersburg.

"We've been able to keep up with the volume and serve them well, too, at this point," Sis said.

The MRI is equipped with an extended aperture, giving the patient a more comfortable open feel.

"It encompasses bigger patients, and it doesn't feel claustrophobic. Feedback has been very good, especially for larger patients. I had a patient who thought it was very roomy, and found it has helped patients who are very claustrophobic to tolerate it better," he said. "Sometimes you still have to medicate patients to get through it, and we found that we are having to medicate less and less.

"The scanning process will take anywhere from 20-35 minutes, depending on the procedure that we're doing and the number of pulse sequences we're doing. We use the pulse sequences to look at different tissues or different processes. Basically they have to hold still from start to finish," Sis said.

A type of imaging technology that uses magnetic fields, the patient's body is placed in a strong magnetic field to produce an image. Certain atoms in the body produce signals, which can be detected by special radio equipment in the MRI machine. A computer then creates cross sectional images of the body part under study.

The MRI costs nearly $1.5 million dollars, give or take a few hundred thousand, and is expensive to upkeep, around $135,000 a year, Sis said.

A big part of the MRI maintenance is the magnet cooling system, as the superconducting magnet used is about 30,000 times the earth's magnetic field, he said.

An MRI machine is a good revenue producer, if you keep it busy, Sis said.

"It's a great machine, and we're really happy with it. Our feedback has been really positive."

Bozarth said that at Juneau Bone & Join Center, the MRI has been well received by patients.

"It's a fully functional MRI: it can scan brain, heart, lungs and breast; it can do all the usual scans. Primarily, in this group we concentrate on doing muscular skeletal scans, it's perfect for that," Bozarth said.

"One of the reasons that we purchased it is we had a lot of out of town patients come in, and turnaround through either ships or flights are usually fairly tight, in a day or so. We always had trouble trying to accommodate, getting them in to see us, getting the full workup, treatments started and yet still getting them home-we can now do that fairly easily with the MRI here," he said.

"We've already seen it provide a huge difference over how we were practicing before and getting them seen and getting them evaluated in a very timely fashion instead of lingering people over a process for several weeks. We can have closure in a day or two and have them on the road to recovery or proper treatment," Bozarth said.