GRAND RAPIDS — A state panel begins work this month on changing regulations to make it easier for health care providers to acquire new MRI scanners.
The Michigan Department of Community Health wants to see more machines in place to improve access and cut down on the long waits patients are now experiencing to have an MRI scan.
“We want to see if we can make this a little less strenuous for folks,” reported Geralyn Lasher, a spokeswoman for the Department of Community Health.
The state’s Certificate of Need (CON) Commission has formed an ad-hoc committee to formulate new standards to use in evaluating applications from health care providers seeking to acquire and put new MRI scanners into operation.
The ad-hoc committee’s first meeting is scheduled for July 25, Lasher said, roughly the length of time some patients must wait to undergo an MRI scan.
The CON is a program under the Department of Community Health that evaluates major capital projects at hospitals and health care providers to ensure enough need exists to justify the expenditure.
In West Michigan, patients generally have to wait weeks to have an MRI scan.
The wait at Spectrum Health can last as long as four to six weeks from the time their doctor orders it, said Bob Meeker, a planning consultant at Spectrum.
“It’s ridiculous to have to wait that long for a diagnostic scan,” Meeker said. “That’s not service at all.”
Spectrum operates all of its MRI scanners 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Quite often patients requiring non-emergency scans are forced to have the procedure done in the middle of the night, Meeker said.
“To come in the middle of the night, that’s asking a lot,” he said.
An MRI — short for magnetic resonance imaging — has become an increasingly useful tool in diagnosing a myriad of medical conditions. In many ways it’s preferable to a CAT scan, which employs more hazardous X-rays to detail what’s occurring within a patient’s tissues.
The long wait for MRI scans today simply stems from the demand exceeding the number of available scanners.
“Demand outstrips capacity,” said Lody Zwarensteyn, president of the Alliance for Health in Grand Rapids.
“Everybody has been complaining about it.”
Spectrum Health has two fixed MRI scanners at its Butterworth and Blodgett campuses, plus a mobile unit at its South Campus on 68th Street that it shares with Mercy General Health Partners in Muskegon.
Spectrum has applied to the state for a CON to add a $2 million fixed unit at its Butterwoth campus, plus a mobile unit it would share between its Butterworth and South campuses, Holland Community Hospital and Hackley Hospital in Muskegon.
Additional MRI scanners are proposed by Metropolitan Hospital, which wants a new mobile unit, Orthopedic Associates of Grand Rapids for the Grand Valley Surgical Center on Leonard Street, and the West Michigan Imaging Center, which seeks a second $1.6 million mobile unit for Hackley and Holland Community hospitals.
The Department of Community Health’s Certificate of Need Commission hopes to have new standards in place later this year to use in evaluating those applications, Lasher said.
Meeker, of Spectrum Health, hopes the ad-hoc committee undertakes major revisions on the MRI standards, calling the existing CON rules “very onerous.”
“To just tinker with the existing method is going to be woefully inadequate. I think it needs a complete overhaul,” he said. “It’s far, far more complicated than it needs to be.”