Business

Clinic giving MRIs for those in need

Surrey MRI chief technician Renee Lien stands beside their state-of-the-art MRI machine. The Langley/Surrey office provides one free MRI a week to patients in need who can’t afford it through their Community Care Program. - Monique Tamminga
Surrey MRI chief technician Renee Lien stands beside their state-of-the-art MRI machine. The Langley/Surrey office provides one free MRI a week to patients in need who can’t afford it through their Community Care Program.
— image credit: Monique Tamminga

As a British Columbian, you know that if you need to get an MRI, you better hurry up and wait.

The average wait for a non-emergency MRI in the public health system is one year.

That’s why several private MRI clinics have opened up throughout Metro Vancouver — for people who can’t take the pain any longer and need help.

Surrey MRI, on the Langley/Surrey border at 192 St., opened 18 months ago with the idea to offer one of the lowest prices, at $595 per MRI, in hopes to make the important scan affordable for more people.

But Surrey MRI has also been quietly, and without fanfare, giving back to the community.

Surrey MRI has been providing free MRIs to those who need one but can’t afford it.

“We at Surrey MRI really believe in giving back to our community,” said Langley Memorial Hospital’s Dr. David Chapman, who is an on-site doctor at the clinic and co-owner of Surrey MRI. He also sits on the LMH Foundation board and was one of the driving forces behind the opening of the new and larger maternity ward.

“It feels good to give back so we want more people to know about this service we are offering,” said Chapman.

Since opening 18 months ago. Surrey MRI has provided dozens of free MRIs, sometimes up to one a week for those in need.

Those in need are referred from their family physician.

An example of who would qualify is a single mom unable to work because of the pain she is experiencing.

“We had a woman come here who was told she would have to wait 18 months to have a publicly-funded MRI.

“She has been unable to work. She needs answers now so she can get treatment and get back to work,” said Chapman.

Her doctor filled out the referral form online at surreymri.com saying she would be a good candidate for the Community Care Program. Those eligible must get a referral from their family doctor.

She came in for an MRI last week, said Chapman.

Most family doctors are aware of Surrey MRIs Community Care program and know to go to the website to fill out the request form for their patients.

“I review and make the decision about whether or not the patient qualifies for the free MRI,” said Chapman.

It’s a combination of financial circumstances and the impact it will have on the person’s life having to wait for a publicly-funded scan.

In one case, a woman came in for one thing but a tumour was discovered in the scan. It was discovered early which can often be the case with MRIs, he said.

Surrey MRI offers Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans for $595.

“People sometimes ask what the catch is, with the low price. But there is no catch. We aren’t out to make huge profits here,” said Chapman. “We really believe in making this affordable.”

The owners of Surrey MRI recognized the pressure the public system is under and hear all the stories of wait times.

According to the latest Canadian data, B.C. is now in last place in the country with the number of publicly funded MRIs taking place each year.

Doctors in B.C. aren’t ordering more MRIs, but actually less compared to other provinces, said the study.

Chapman said that correlates with his own experience as a doctor.

But quality of life comes into play for people living with pain or worries of possible tumours.

“Take someone who has a soccer injury so is off work but isn’t being paid because it didn’t happen at work,” he said.

“That person is not making any money and in pain. With an MRI they can get an answer sooner and get back to work sooner.

“Often, an orthopedic surgeon won’t even see a patient without an MRI done first,” Chapman said.

Surrey MRI recently started offering therapeutic joint injections as well.

The injection offers pain relief for knees, shoulders and spines, etc.

“One of our radiologists will inject a knee and provide pain relief for up to six months while a person waits for a knee replacement, for example.”

The state-of-the-art MRI machine they chose to have at Surrey MRI has a shorter bed and wider openings at both ends so patients won’t feel closed in during the scan.

•••

Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRIs are a preferred diagnostic tool because they are a safe way of obtaining detailed images of organs and tissues without using ionizing radiation in the body.

Instead MRIs use powerful magnetic fields and radio waves to take pictures that determine if tissue is healthy or not.

But because of the powerful magnetic field, not everyone can get an MRI.

And every metal thing like watches, earrings and even bra straps will be lifted off a person by magnetic pull once inside a room with an MRI machine.

If you have ever welded, you run the risk of the metal fragments being vibrated and pulled out of your eye. People with pacemakers or other metallic implant in their body may not be able to have an MRI. If you have a bullet in you, it will move and be pulled from its place.

To put in such a huge, extremely sensitive piece of diagnostic equipment, the owners of Surrey MRI had to build the office to suit the needs of the MRI machine.

This included digging below the ground to pour a very thick concrete slab the MRI could sit on so that the rumbling of trucks going by wouldn’t impact the imaging results.

They also had to build very thick walls so the radio waves from the machine couldn’t go out of the room and the radio waves from people’s vehicles, including their GPS machines, couldn’t come in.

The constant clicking sound heard in a room with an MRI machine is water that cools the magnets, stopping them from heating up.

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