MUSC and Georgetown EMS test first mobile MRI scanner in moving ambulance

Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 6:00 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 7, 2022 at 6:50 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Staff at the Medical University of South Carolina recently partnered with Georgetown County Fire and EMS to successfully conduct a pilot study for the first MRI scanner in an ambulance.

The goal is to eventually be able to use this mobile MRI machine on real people, right here in South Carolina.

The team of researchers and medical professionals recently tested out the scanner on a phantom person and a neuro-radiology faculty member at MUSC, Dr. Donna Roberts, says they were surprised by the results.

“We were even going over the Cooper River Bridge and that for me was just like a surreal moment to think I’m doing an MRI scan on top of the Cooper River Bridge,” Roberts said. “It was just an amazing thing and the images were beautiful so I think this has a lot of potential.”

Roberts says the portable MRI was developed by a company called Hyperfine. She says the hope is to do brain scans on patients who may potentially be having a stroke.

Dr. Sami Al Kasab is associate medical director of the MUSC Health Teleneuroscience Program.

He says they’ve developed a TeleEMS program so emergency medical technicians can consult with stroke specialists while inside a patient’s home or the back of the ambulance.

Michael Haschker, manager of telehealth technologies in the MUSC Health Center for Telehealth first recruited Lt. Dale Hewitt of Georgetown County Fire/EMS to help with the demonstration. Hewitt and his wife, Jessica Hewitt, R.N., a nurse leader in the Emergency Department at Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital.

Dale Hewitt volunteered his time to drive the ambulance around Charleston while the MUSC team tested its first MRI scan in an ambulance.

“We’re in a rural setting. We’re in what they call the buckle of the stroke belt. Being in the southeast, we have the fried food, we have all that, which leads to stroke,” Hewitt said. “And being able to get the care they need whether it be 15 minutes sooner or an hour sooner it can be the difference between a patient walking out of the hospital and the patient being rolled out in a wheelchair.”

Al Kasab says the ability to do brain scans inside the ambulance would help them determine whether a patient needs to go to a stroke specialist, a hospital, and what kind of medicine they can go ahead and give them in the truck.

Roberts says through this mobile scan, they could determine whether a person is having a stroke in about 5 to 7 minutes.

“This will lead into reduction into the time patients are seen,” Al Kasab said. “So, the faster you treat patients with acute systemic stroke the higher the likelihood of a good outcome. '

Right now, Roberts says this technology is FDA approved for use in hospitals, but not in an ambulance.

However, the team says their next steps will be to test the scanner on real people, just scanning healthy people.

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