MUSC expanding access to complex MRIs through remote technology

As part of an expanding initiative, the Medical University of South Carolina is working to cut down travel time and expenses for patients who need complex MRIs.
Published: May. 19, 2023 at 4:00 PM EDT|Updated: May. 20, 2023 at 1:48 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - As part of an expanding initiative, the Medical University of South Carolina is working to cut down travel time and expenses for patients who need complex MRIs through remote technology operated in Charleston.

This comes as rural healthcare access continues to be a challenge for people in parts of South Carolina.

“Nationally, rural America is 20 percent of the U.S. population that’s served by 10 percent of its physicians, and in South Carolina, the situation tends to be similarly bad,” Dr. Jan Probst, the former director of the Rural Minority Health Research Center at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, said.

Large swaths of the state are healthcare deserts and traveling elsewhere can be complicated, according to Probst and her fellow researchers at the Rural Minority Health Research Center.

“Especially when there are a lot of counties that don’t have sufficient infrastructure for transportation, and those households have exacerbated challenges to commute,” Dr. Peiyin Hung, the deputy director of the center, says.

The impacts of a lack of healthcare access can be grave.

“It could be fatal, right?” Dr. Elizabeth Crouch, the director of the center, says. “If there’s an emergency or accident, there’s nobody to get you to a hospital or trauma care, but second of all, there’s a lot of screening issues. Say you need a colonoscopy, but the closest gastroenterologist is five counties away, are you going to drive and go the distance?”

To improve access to healthcare services, an effort by MUSC aims to expand access to complex MRI scans for people who live outside the Lowcountry.

“It took about 4 to 6 months to implement, to get all of the equipment here, to get everything set up,” Lori Carithers, the director of radiology at MUSC, says.

According to Carithers, MUSC’s syngo Virtual Cockpit allows patients to go to other locations for advanced MRIs while a tech in Charleston operates the scan remotely. This means complex scans that historically have generally only been offered in Charleston –cardiac, fetal, and pediatric MRIs —can be completed at their location in Columbia and patients don’t have to travel across the state for the scan, she says.

“The technologist here will remote into their scanner, and then they will take over and actually scan the patient,” Carithers says.

MUSC is the first in the state to introduce this technology, and the hospital can currently scan up to six patients a day, she says. While Columbia is the only other location currently offering this remote technology, according to Carithers, MUSC is working on expanding the service to other parts of the state.

“We have a new hospital in Black River, so that is probably going to be the next location that we’re going to look at,” she says.

The remote technology can be used as an educational tool as well as a way to assist in emergencies at rural hospitals, according to Carithers.

“Sometimes if you’re a newer technologist, and you’re unsure about how to scan some more complex scans, we can remote in here and walk you through some things,” she says. “Some rural hospitals are not staffed 24 hours a day, so there’s an opportunity for a technologist here that could actually log in if there’s a patient in another rural hospital that needs an emergent scan instead of transferring them down here.”