MUSC exploring use of MRI in ambulance to help stroke patients

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Georgetown County Fire/EMS recently teamed up to test the feasibility of conducting an MRI scan in the back of a moving ambulance.

The goal, according to MUSC, was to “cut down the steps that need to happen between the time a stroke patient is wheeled through the ambulance bay until the treatment can begin.”

Doctors went into the project with the assumption that the sooner an MRI was performed, the better the patient outcome, especially for those experiencing oxygen deprivation.

Dr. Christine Holmstedt, who serves as MUSC’s Medical Director for Clinical Stroke Services, explained that “for every 15-minute reduction in ‘door-to-needle time,’ there’s a significant improvement in patient outcomes, including reduction in disabilities and reduction in mortality.”

Conducting an MRI in an ambulance would also better inform first responders on the level of care the patient needs. For example, stroke specialists would be able to examine the MRI while the patient is en route and determine whether a community hospital can provide a sufficient level of care, or whether the patient should be taken directly to a stroke center.

To test the theory, the team used a portable MRI that was designed to conduct bedside brain scans in hospitals. Although still large at 1,400 pounds, it was able to fit and function in the back of an ambulance.

Lt. Dale Hewitt with Georgetown County Fire/EMS drove the ambulance around Charleston while the team ran tests, which yielded promising results.

Donna Roberts, M.D., is a professor of radiology and radiological science at MUSC. She said that the machine was able to account for the motion of the vehicle “and correct that in real time… so the pictures came out crystal clear.”

Dr. Holmstedt hopes to start a pilot program in Charleston County “to determine the feasibility and potential lifetime cost savings per patient.”

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