Image Quality of Scans: A Mystery?

Patients who go in for MRIs are often told nothing is wrong, when in fact the scan is of poor quality and so misses the problem, as Gina Kolata’s story demonstrates.

Doctors all agree that it is a good idea to get MRIs and other scans done at centers accredited by the American College of Radiology. But, they caution, there is a wide range of quality among those centers. Quality depends on the quality of the imaging coils put around the body part being scanned, the skill of the technicians and the expertise of the doctor reading the image:

At Massachusetts General Hospital, for example, Dr. Gazelle said, “musculoskeletal M.R.I.’s are read by someone who does musculoskeletal imaging every day” – and not “by someone who reads chest M.R.I.’s one day and musculoskeletal M.R.I.’s the next.”

Dr. Forman says it pays to check the credentials of a center’s radiologists.

“If you say, ‘Who will be reading my scan?’ and they say, ‘One of our radiologists,’ you don’t go to a place like that,” he said. (I checked the Web site of the first center I went to. The radiologist who read my scan was a generalist with no special training.)

It also pays to ask the radiology center whether it has the latest generation of scanners. The stronger the magnet in the MRI machine (the “M” in MRI stands for Magnetic), the higher quality the image it produces.

Misreadings of MRI scans can cause tragic, preventable injuries to patients, as our firm’s experience has shown.

The other piece of advice we can extract from the article is not to place absolute faith in a first-time scan that turns out negative. If the scan is negative and you feel that something is still wrong–like there is still severe pain–it is worthwhile to get a second opinion.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
Washingtonian Top Lawyer 2011
Avvo Rating 10.0 Superb Top Attorney Best Lawyers Firm
Contact Information