DMS Blog

Mobile vs. In-house: MRI facts, myths and an honest comparison

Have you ever wondered what you’re getting when it comes to mobile MRI services?

For a number of reasons, mobile MRI has become more popular among hospitals and clinics. Mobile services can be a great option when the cost of building your own MRI suite is prohibitive, or when you need a temporary solution while a suite is being built or upgraded.

Sometimes physicians hesitate over whether mobile or in-house MRI is the better choice. Here we’re making a comparison between the two and addressing a common myth:

“The image quality won’t be as good”

By far, the biggest myth that circulates is about image quality. Doctors may hesitate to send their patients to a mobile scanner because they fear the image quality won’t be as good as a hospital. Perhaps that comes from past experience, but the reality is that the image quality comes down to two things:

  1. The imaging equipment being used in the mobile trailer versus what is being used in the hospital.
  2. The skills of the person operating the imaging equipment.

If you have a similarly skilled technologist working with a similar type of scanner, you should see no difference in the resulting images. When you look at the quality of the imaging though, mobile can beat the in-house results if the mobile equipment is newer or the technologist is more skilled.

Just because scanning is mobile, doesn’t mean that it won’t be as good. The available software plays a role too. Sometimes you will find that a mobile service has software allowing them to offer more options to patients than an in-house service.

It’s all about perception, really. For patients who live in areas where the hospital doesn’t have the latest equipment or perhaps has none at all, mobile MRI obviously represents a significant step up from what they’ve had.

mobile mri vs in-house mri

Patient experience of mobile MRI machine

The patient experience will be different between mobile and in-house MRI, and there are adjustments that might need to be made, the obvious one being patient direction or transport.

This will vary from site to site. Some facilities have a bay where a mobile service can pull up, some have a sealed air bridge which creates a seamless experience like walking into another room. Some don’t have space near their building and will have to move patients elsewhere.

You also need to consider factors about the space available, such as where a patient gets changed for their MRI. Usually, this can be resolved relatively seamlessly – they can get changed inside the trailer or inside the building.

A minor point that can be mentioned by patients is whether or not the mobile unit has an audio system. If patients can’t have music, sometimes this will be an issue for them. In-house MRI suites often have much more elaborate audio systems with satellite radio and other technologies, but mobile units tend to have FM radio and CD players.

Clinic experience of mobile MRI scanner

The majority of interim rentals involve their own technologist using the equipment. Most of the time technologists make the transition quite well. If the scanner is different from what they are used to, they need some time to learn the new software and hardware.

DMS Health recommends training which we can provide if the customer elects it, working with the technologist on the equipment. This is a must have if technologists haven’t used the technology or software before.

If the technologist is more familiar with a different coil, they may need to adapt to the mobile unit coil. Sometimes the mobile coil is much better than what they have been used to, so they’re getting better images.

As a whole, if everything is done properly – required training is provided, equipment is working as expected, and the customer is getting what they want – it all works smoothly. It’s not going to be exactly the same as an in-house scan, but it can be a very seamless process.

medical mobile imaging

When to choose mobile MRI over in-house

Sometimes you don’t have much of a choice but to choose mobile or interim MRI, especially if you’re having work done that renders your in-house MRI inoperable. There are a few other situations, though, where mobile may make sense when compared to other options:

  1. When you want to offer a new modality: If you haven’t offered MRI imaging previously, renting a mobile unit gives you the opportunity to safely measure the potential of this new modality. Installing an in-house suite involves a very large initial capital outlay – you need to be certain that the investment will pay off. A mobile unit allows you to gauge volumes and potential for offering an in-house service later. It also helps you to gather data on scanning needs so that you’re better informed when it comes time to decide what type of equipment you need to install. For example, if the majority of your cases involve scanning shoulders or spines, it would not be ideal to choose an extremity-only machine.
  2. When population, location, or cost make the installation of an in-house service prohibitive: Some patient populations would otherwise be deprived of the technology or required to drive long distances to obtain it. Mobile MRI offers lower fixed costs and the opportunity to be flexible with location and scheduling. It can also be a way to disperse MRI costs between different providers and make it possible to help more patients.
  3. When space and building constraints prevent you from offering in-house MRI: Space within medical facilities is usually in high demand, and an MRI suite takes up prime real estate. Alternatively, perhaps you already do offer in-house MRI but it is so busy you need a second unit. Mobile can give you that capability without renovating.
  4. When you’d like to offer a technology upgrade but don’t have the budget: It can be difficult cost-wise to swap out an older generation MRI scanner for a newer one. With technology always improving, mobile offers clinics the option of upgrading without having to actually purchase a new unit. This can help with goals your practice might have, such as faster patient processing.

Final thoughts

The mobile MRI experience is always going to be different from that of an in-house MRI suite, but with the right provider it can be a seamless and positive experience.

Doctors can and should expect to get high-quality imaging from a mobile MRI. Most are now running 1.5T or higher technology – sometimes better than legacy in-house units.

The experience of patients and technologists will be different, but going with mobile MRI versus in-house MRI should help your facility manage gaps due to repair and add new services.

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