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Getting patients past their fears of medical tests and technology is a passion for Laurie Sullivan and the care team at Midwest Open MRI in Madison, a designated QualityPath® provider.

Sullivan, Midwest Open’s business manager, recently summed up 10 common magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) fears and how Midwest Open MRI helps people overcome them. Midwest Open MRI provides scans for musculoskeletal injuries that impact muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones, as well as scans of the brain.

“Stress and anxiety can prevent people from scheduling an MRI or at the last minute, keep them from showing up for the appointment,” Sullivan said. “I’m on a mission to get more information out to educate patients and help them deal with that stress.”

MRI Patient Top 10 Fears

These are the top 10 fears that affect patients who come to Midwest Open MRI.

  1. Fear of enclosed spaces, or claustrophobia:  “This is the biggest reason that people have fear and anxiety and even avoiding having an MRI,” Sullivan said. Patients expect all MRIs to involve being inserted in an enclosed “tube,” but an open MRI uses a device positioned above a table that is open on all sides. Midwest Open offers a video that shows patients what its MRI room looks like. If patients are still anxious, they can ask their doctor to order a mild sedative.
  2. Fear of the unknown: Many people do not understand what an MRI is or how it works. According to WebMD, an MRI “uses powerful magnets, radio waves and a computer to make detailed pictures” of your body. Sullivan encourages people to learn about MRIs before the test so they know what to expect.
  3. Fear of loud noises: Most people easily tolerate the thumping noise made by an MRI. However, people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially military veterans, sometimes say it reminds them of helicopters or gunfire. Midwest Open MRI provides earplugs to help mute these noises. While it is not possible to play music in the MRI room, the atmosphere is kept as serene as possible.
  4. Fear of radiation: “Some people fear that an MRI uses radiation that is harmful to their health,” Sullivan said. Fortunately, MRIs do not use radiation to perform the scan. But patients should be careful to inform their doctors and the staff at Midwest Open MRI about any devices or implants that contain metal, since strong magnets are used to create the MRI scan.
  5. Fear of contrast dye: This liquid dye is injected in the arm to get a better image in a particular area of the body. Some people have an allergic reaction to the dye, although this is rare. At Midwest Open MRI, a nurse practitioner is always onsite when contrast dye is used. In almost 20 years of scans at Midwest Open MRI, Sullivan said only one person had a minor reaction, which was treated with over-the-counter medication.
  6. Fear of being too heavy for the equipment. Midwest Open MRI can handle patients who weigh up to 500 pounds. That means Midwest Open MRI can help many people who are turned away by other facilities.
  7. Fear that their doctor will say they must have the test elsewhere. “All a patient has to do is ask to go to Midwest Open MRI and the doctor should agree to it,” Sullivan said. She experienced this in January when she needed a shoulder MRI. The doctor’s staff had already set up the MRI at a nearby medical clinic, which has a higher cost. But when Sullivan asked to go to Midwest Open MRI, the staff cheerfully adjusted the arrangements.
  8. Fear that an open MRI lacks quality. To be part of QualityPath, Midwest Open MRI must show that it offers high-quality scans, which includes adopting processes that lead to better results for patients. Sullivan said scans from open MRIs will be different than those from a “tube” MRI, but they will provide all the information that radiologists need to review the scan and provide a report for the patient’s doctor.
  9. Fear of being left alone. Patients are never left alone; the MRI technologist is always nearby. The technologist can hear and see the patient and will be at the patient’s side in seconds if an issue arises.  When dye is used, a nurse practitioner is also nearby. Sullivan notes that more than 99 percent of Midwest Open MRI patients say they would recommend its services to other patients due solely to the care and expertise of their radiology technologist.
  10. Fear of embarrassment. People often dread medical tests because they have to change into a medical gown or because other people will learn how nervous they are. Sullivan says Midwest Open MRI lets people wear their own clothes, although they are encouraged to avoid jewelry or clothes that contain metal such as zippers or belts. This concern is typically limited to the specific area of the body that is being scanned. Most patients can handle the test easily, which means no one has to know they were nervous. The only requirement for all patients is the ability to lie still during the time when the machine is taking the scan in order to secure the best image.

Don’t Hurry, Don’t Worry

Patients can make an MRI easier for themselves by following a policy of “don’t hurry, don’t worry,” Sullivan said. These tips can help patients eliminate worries:

  • Learn about MRIs in advance at the Midwest Open website, so you know what to expect.
  • Discuss your fears with the team at Midwest Open MRI before you arrive. They can often share tactics for dealing with them, such as requesting a mild sedative from your doctor.
  • Try to avoid a tight schedule or stressful situations on the day the scan is planned.
  • Keep breathing. Sullivan has focused on “breathing in, then breathing out” to get through two MRIs in the past. She also uses meditation techniques, such as imagining a white flood of light filling her body, starting at her toes and gradually moving upward.

“It’s amazing how you can help yourself relax,” Sullivan said. “The next thing you know, the scan is over.”


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