WBAMC's MRI service tops DOD averages, offers 24/7 imaging
William Beaumont Army Medical Center's MRI services has been recognized as the best practice in MEDCOM and offers one of the only 24/7 imaging services in El Paso, providing high-quality patient care to all beneficiaries while increasing force readin... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

William Beaumont Army Medical Center's MRI services has been recognized as the best practice in MEDCOM and offers one of the only 24/7 imaging services in El Paso, providing high-quality patient care to all beneficiaries while increasing force readiness throughout Fort Bliss.

Service members and other beneficiaries are urged to prepare for the imaging process to experience an effortless, streamlined encounter. With an average of about 1,000 MRI examinations each month, WBAMC's MRI clinic currently tops the Department of Defense's MRI procedures per month, from all Military Treatment Facilities.

With 1.5 and 3.0 Tesla MRI scanners available, WBAMC's MRI services provide physicians the means to examine patients for tumors, infections and other ailments using high-quality images.

"We have the best practice in MRI (in El Paso) and in all of (Army Medicine) regarding efficiency and quality," said MAJ. Salvatore Labruzzo, a neuroradiologist and officer in charge of WBAMC's MRI section. "We're more about quality than throughput."

Using a strong magnetic field, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, better known as MRI, provides physicians with detailed and comprehensive cross-sectional images. For patients, the process is non-invasive, painless, and differs from CT Scans and X-rays because it doesn't use radiation to create the image.

Labruzzo recommends patients first visit WBAMC's MRI clinic once they are referred for an MRI, to familiarize themselves with MRI locations and discuss any concerns with staff.

During their appointment, each patient starts their MRI experience with a lengthy questionnaire designed to safeguard patients against any possible contraindications with questions ranging from medical implants to body piercings.

"(The MRI Safety Questionnaire) is extensive, but we have to protect the patients from injury," explains Larry James, supervisor, MRI Clinic. "If a patient comes in and says they have no history of injuries or surgeries our MRI technologists and Medical Support Assistant will still ask questions concerning MRI safety. Even having a BB inside you for over 10 years could possibly stop you from having a MRI exam. You would be very surprised what people have inside them. The MRI Safety Questionnaire is the most important part of the MRI scheduling process."

For patients who have a complex medical history, it is recommended they provide the MRI staff with required documents ahead of time, to minimize delay during appointments. Patients with medical devices and implants should obtain MRI safety cards or bring in medical records to determine requirements during imaging.

"Patients should let the MRI staff know if they have had any kind of medical history of surgeries, pacemakers, stents, neurotransmitters, shrapnel or (metallic projectiles)," said James, a native of Charleston, South Carolina. "Most patients will receive a MRI Safety card following their surgeries informing them if the medical device used in the surgery is MRI safe or not. The MRI Safety card is an invaluable source of information and could save a lot of time for the patient and the MRI staff with scheduling."

Prior to MRI imaging, technologists will verify appropriate medical history is documented and considered for the patient's safety during the procedure.

"If there is metal particularly in the eye, we may not do an MRI because (the metal) can move or heat up and cause blindness" said Labruzzo, a native of Long Island, New York. "Similarly with combat-related injuries, some shrapnel we can put in the MRI but some can be dangerous such as in the neck, spine and face. It's not just the larger organs we worry about, we worry about nerves and vessels. If it heats up next to a nerve it can damage that nerve causing patients to lose sensation and/or muscle function."

Some devices may also be MRI conditional, meaning certain precautions are required to initiate MRI imaging, occasionally necessitating device manufacturer representatives to be present during the process to enable and/or disable devices. During such processes, MRI staff is augmented with medical personnel for patient safety.

Other patient safety precautions on the day of imaging may include ensuring all makeup is removed, removing fingernail polish, acknowledging all tattoos to staff and disclosing any claustrophobia.

"It's a long examination. The shortest exams are about 20-25 minutes and others can go on for hours," said Labruzzo. "(The MRI) is a small tube shaped machine. Some people can handle their claustrophobia for a few minutes but it takes just that to get the MRI ready for the exam and many more to actually go through the imaging. If a patient moves during the examination it may distort the image a great deal and makes them almost non-diagnostic."

Because traditional MRI openings range from 21-26 inches, patients with fear of enclosed spaces are allowed movement during sequences but must stay still during imaging. Other options may also include sedation, if prescribed by the patient's physician. Constraints may also affect patients with broad shoulders or large girth.

Over the past two decades, the need for MRI imaging has increased significantly, resulting in the addition of the 3.0 tesla in 2010. Additionally, until 2016, only service members were offered imaging services at WBAMC. Today, WBAMC MRI services are available to all service members, retirees and eligible family members.

"The demand for MRI has quadrupled. When MRI first opened at WBAMC we had three technicians, now we have 16," said James, who has worked as the MRI supervisor since 2016.

The WBAMC MRI Clinic is located in front of the Bradley Building, near the Alabama St. entrance to the hospital campus. For more information, contact the MRI Clinic at 915-742-6466/1630/5057.