Thorough Policies and Procedures Ensure MRI Safety

The following article was written by Orit Glenn, M.D., Associate Professor of Radiology in the Neuroradiology Section and Chair of the MRI Safety Committee at UCSF.

It is very rare for injuries to occur during a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, as was noted during a segment about the safety of MRIs that aired recently on CNN.  The potential risks of MRI must be weighed against the invaluable information about disease processes that this imaging modality provides.  In fact, MRI is used not just to diagnose disease processes, but also to monitor diseases during and/or after treatment.

MRI has advantages over other technologies. MRI does not use ionizing radiation, which makes it safer for the body than a CT scan. But while there is no danger from ionizing radiation with MRI, the magnetic field of the MRI poses a potential risk, as was discussed by CNN.

At the UCSF Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, we perform over 12,000 magnetic resonance (MR) exams per year. We take measures to minimize the potential risks of MRI and to ensure that patients and staff are kept safe. We follow the safety guidelines recommended by the American College of Radiology for a four zone concept of the MRI area. In addition, our MR technologists are required to complete an online MR safety training module each year, and lectures on MR safety are given to physicians.

Upon arriving for an MRI scan at UCSF, every patient is given an instructional sheet that answers frequently asked questions about MRI, including safety issues and what items are not allowed during the scan.  Lockers are available for patients to store metallic and other personal items.   Patients must remove any objects containing metal prior to the scan as these may be dangerous in the MRI environment. We also follow FDA guidelines regarding noise limits associated with MRI, and we provide patients with earplugs to wear during the MR exam.

Before any patient may enter the MRI environment, they are required to fill out an MR screening form.  The form is carefully reviewed by the MR technologist. If there are any reasons why the MRI environment may be unsafe for the patient, then a radiologist is consulted to determine if entry to the MRI scanner is allowed. Before beginning the MR exam, the technologist gives the patient an alarm button so the patient can alert the technologist if they are uncomfortable or concerned about something.

Although there are potential risks associated with the MRI environment, these risks can be minimized by following MR patient safety guidelines like those in place at UCSF. Our primary goal is to ensure the health and safety of our patients.

The Department of Radiology & Biomedical Imaging at UCSF is committed to maintaining the highest possible standards of patient care and safety, from the moment a test is requested through to performance and final reporting of an imaging examination. This is true for all the tests we perform, whether it be plain X-rays, computed tomography (CT), MRI, ultrasound, nuclear medicine tests, or an interventional radiology procedure.

For more information the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, please see here.