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Comox Valley gets turn for mobile MRI

MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING technologist Helena Spears works at the new mobile MRI unit in Comox. - Renee Andor
MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING technologist Helena Spears works at the new mobile MRI unit in Comox.
— image credit: Renee Andor

Comox Valley patients can now officially receive MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans without leaving the Valley.

Some residents may have noticed — or even used — the Vancouver Island Health Authority's (VIHA) mobile MRI service, which has been set up outside of St. Joseph's General Hospital over the past couple of weeks, but Wednesday was the official launch of the new high-tech piece of equipment at the hospital.

St. Joseph's radiologist Dr. Valerie Astrope pointed out patient care will be strengthened in the Valley, and the rest of the North Island, thanks to the new piece of equipment.

"This machine allows all the communities in the North Island to enhance a radiation-free diagnostic service, and that's hugely important to us. It aids in diagnosis of our local patients and advances patient care up here," she said, adding, "so far, as radiologists, we're really, really happy with the images it's producing."

Housed in a 48-foot trailer, the mobile unit takes three-dimensional images of the body using a strong magnetic field. The trailer is lined with material that keeps the magnetic field inside the unit. The mobile MRI is the first of its kind to be installed in a trailer in North America, according to VIHA.

The unit will soon head up to Campbell River, one of the other three communities the mobile MRI will visit during its rotating schedule with one to two weeks spent in each community. Hospitals in Duncan and Port Alberni also host the equipment.

According to St. Joseph's manager of diagnostic imaging Carolyn Carlson, the machine will be here for two weeks during each rotation, and up to 15 scans can be booked per day.

"That's 300 exams in a two-week period, so that's 300 people that aren't travelling, that aren't waiting to go some place else, so that's pretty significant," she said.

"MRI technology has been available for more than 20 years, but to have MRI technology closer to where the patient lives basically gives physicians more opportunity to send their patients to it.

"A lot of patients have not been able to utilize the technology because of expense or inability to drive to another site — when it was available only in Nanaimo or Victoria that was really limiting to people."

Including the trailer, the mobile MRI cost about $1.9 million. Infrastructure and site improvement costs were about $1.1 million, and operating costs per year will be about $1.4 million.

The Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District, (covering hospitals in Comox Valley and Campbell River), will chip in $575,971, while the Cowichan Valley RHD will contribute $419,456 and $205,183 will come from the Alberni Clayoquot RHD.

Comox Valley MLA and Education Minister Don McRae, CSRHD vice-chair and Comox Valley Regional District director Bruce Jolliffe, Comox Mayor Paul Ives and VIHA administration were at the official launch.

McRae noted he, his wife and two children were born at St. Joseph's and access to the best medical technologies in the Comox Valley is important to him.

"This is something that the medical staff at St. Joe's will use well to make sure we have a better quality of life," he added.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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