The MRI Procedure in 10 Steps: Managing Patient Anxiety Through Information
A first-time MRI procedure can make patients nervous, even to the point of ending the scan. That can lead to higher costs for imaging centers, and even affect patient outcomes if the anxiety interferes with the quality of the radiology report. Research shows one simple way to help nervous patients get through their scans without interruption: Communication.
A 2015 study in the journal Magnetic Resonance Imaging tested an intervention in which imaging staff explained the MRI process to one group of patients. They took blood samples during the scans, later testing them for the stress hormones prolactin and cortisol. Additionally, they took both the experimental and control groups through the 40-questions State-Trait Anxiety Inventory to measure patient nervousness.
The patients who had the intervention in which staff verbally shared information about the scan showed a 6-percent drop in cortisol after the scan. The control group’s cortisol levels increased by 18 percent. The authors of the study conclude that “MRI anxiety can be reduced by information and communication. This combined method is shown to be effective and should be used during daily radiology routine.”
So what can physicians do to prepare their patients for a first MRI scan in advance? It’s never too early to start educating patients about what they can expect during a health procedure. And the MRI process can be boiled down into 10, easy-to-grasp steps. Share these steps with patients to help limit anxiety during an MRI scan:
- First, radiology staff will walk the patient through a detailed screening process. Because of the strong magnetic field generated during an MRI, patients must report any medical implants or metal particles in their bodies. These may preclude the use of MRI imaging.
- Once the patient clears the screening, staff will lead them into the MRI suite. Some imaging facilities offer hospital robes, to ensure there’s no metal in the patient’s clothing. Others allow patients to wear their own metal-free clothes, such as sweat pants and a T-shirt. The technologist will proceed to position the patient on the table; most commonly, patients lie on their backs. If the scan requires an additional radiofrequency coil, the technologist will place that on the patient’s body at this time.
- The patient enters the bore. Meanwhile, technologists cycle through a list of pre-programmed settings called “protocols.” They’ll choose the protocol that corresponds with the body part they are imaging; this will tell the MRI machine which angles, targets, and pulse sequences to use in this particular procedure.
- Before the scan proper begins, technologists run a “scout” or “localizer” scan. This is a low-quality image, and it won’t be used in reporting. However, localizer scans obtain visual and placement information that the computer will used to plan the angles of its imaging later in the process.
- Parallel imaging is a process designed to speed up scan time. It collects less raw data during the scan, and patches missing information using special algorithms to generate the final image. Parallel imaging requires specifically calibrated coils, and may call for a calibration scan at this point.
- One of the great strengths of MRI scans is that they create 3D images that can be viewed from any angle. The next step is to program in the angle of images for the radiologist. Technologists can change the “thickness” of the image at this point, as well.
- Before the scanner can begin collecting valuable images, it must calibrate all systems through the use of a prescan. This shouldn’t take much more than 10 or 20 seconds.
- It is only at this relatively late stage in the process that the technologist actually runs the scan. They will make necessary adjustments and continue scanning according to the chosen protocol. In the end, they’ll have clear, accurate images that radiologists will use in their reporting.
- Some types of images require extra work in post-production, but this can be done after the patient has left the MRI suite.
- Scanning complete, the technologist pulls the patient from the bore. Different types of scans take varying lengths of time, but most range between 20 and 60 minutes.
When patients understand more about their medical procedures, and know what to expect, they’re less likely to experience significant anxiety. That’s both a value in itself — as patient-centered caregivers, staff at Precise Imaging works to keep patients comfortable, both physically and emotionally — and an element of better diagnoses, which lead to better patient outcomes.
To learn more about an MRI procedure from Precise Imaging, or to refer a patient, call us at 800-558-2223.
Deshmane A, Gulani V, Griswold MA, Seiberlich N. Parallel MR imaging. Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging: JMRI. 2012;36(1):55-72. doi:10.1002/jmri.23639
Elster AD. “Performing an MR Scan.” MRIQuestions.com. 2017. Web. Jan. 8 2018.
Tazegul G, Etcioglu E, Yildiz F, Tuney D. Can MRI related patient anxiety be prevented? Magnetic Resonance Imaging. 2015;33(1):180-3. doi:10.1016/j.mri.2014.08.024