Every time I take a group on a tour through Yampa Valley Medical Center, I pause at the Radiology area and say, "Here's where hospitals spend the big bucks. This is the most expensive department in almost every hospital, because equipment is constantly being replaced or improved."
Now, I have a timely and specific example to prove my point. Last month, YVMC invested $600,000 for a significant upgrade to the magnetic resonance imaging equipment and extensive education of the radiologic technologists who perform the exams.
"This is a huge upgrade and a real commitment to the community," Radiology Director Mary Jo Wiedel said. "The new software program is allowing us to get better-quality images while providing a more comfortable experience for our patients."
MRI is a noninvasive test that uses a high-strength magnet, radio waves and a computer to produce detailed images of bone, organs and soft tissues. It does not use x-rays, or radiation. It is especially effective in imaging the brain, spine, joints and blood vessels. MRI is often used to identify tumors.
"This upgrade has dramatically improved our imaging capabilities, especially with respect to abdominal and pelvic studies where the patient must hold their breath to minimize motion artifacts," board-certified radiologist Fred Jones, M.D., said. "We can now acquire images with greater detail and in less time."
Drs. Rob Lile, J.D. Gilliland and Jones are the three board-certified, full-time radiologists who interpret the examinations at YVMC. Their expertise is an important factor in maintaining the American College of Radiology's accreditation, a designation that recognizes consistently high practice standards.
Four radiologic technologists perform MRI exams at YVMC. Lead MRI Technologist Katrina Johnson was one of two techs who spent a week at General Electric's Wisconsin training center.
GE application specialists then were on-site at YVMC for a week to train the MRI team. They are scheduled to return this summer for a follow-up week.
"I am extremely proud of our MRI team," Wiedel said. "They canceled vacations, found extra babysitters and did what they needed to do for the training. They really take pride in their work, and they do a great job."
Wiedel's department is devoted to serving the patient and has begun to offer new scheduling options that cater to those who work full time. MRIs now can be scheduled on Saturday mornings and early in the evening on Mondays. Patients may contact the department directly at (970) 871-2399 to schedule an MRI exam.
"We schedule an hour for most studies, which includes time for the technologist to obtain a brief medical history," Wiedel explained. "For example, we need to find out whether the person has any metal in the parts of the body being scanned."
YVMC currently performs all types of MRI exams excluding cardiac and breast MRI. The department serves as a resource to help patients obtain those services elsewhere in Colorado. Women's Imaging Coordinator Julie Isaacs assists women who need to schedule breast MRIs. She can be reached at (970) 871-2514.
Wiedel said she sometimes hears from people who don't realize that YVMC performs MRI exams. She encourages anyone who has questions about imaging services to call her directly at (970) 870-1236.
"With the cost of gas and the expense of taking a day off work, there is no reason for anyone to leave town to get most MRI exams," she said. "I am happy to answer any questions and explain our services."
Jones said the upgrade puts YVMC's equipment and the quality of its exams on a par with any hospital MRI in the state that uses a comparable 1.5-Tesla magnet.
"The fact that we continue to make these investments in our equipment and Radiology staff reflects the highest level of concern for our patients," Wiedel said. "We strive to give our patients the highest quality exam in their own community."
Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center.