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Patients at Iqaluit Hospital can now have MRI scans of their heads

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Staff at the Iqaluit Hospital recently made history when they performed the first magnetic resonance imaging of the head in Nunavut.

The Ministry of Health purchased a portable magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine earlier this month and used it for the first time on May 15.

The computer tomography (CT) scanner at Qikiqtani General Hospital is currently being replaced. The replacement is expected to take approximately six weeks.

Instead of sending patients needing internal scans to Ottawa, where the nearest CT scanner is located, the hospital decided to purchase an MRI machine.

“When we looked at the data and statistics, we found that we perform between 80 and 120 emergency head CT scans per month,” said Dr. Francois de Wet, Nunavut's territorial chief of staff.

The MRI machine has numerous advantages over the CT scanner, including mobility, reliability and modern technology that allows operation via an iPad, said de Wet.

In addition, the MRI machine can easily be moved to any location in the hospital without having to transport patients there.

The portable device is smaller than a traditional MRI machine, which limits its scanning ability to the head, but it is also more comfortable.

“It's open so the mother can be with the baby and touch it,” said de Wet. “The fear of these devices is now much less.”

The smaller MRI machine uses magnetism equivalent to that of a refrigerator magnet, meaning staff don't have to remove all the metal from a room, which is typical with traditional MRI machines.

“It's a better alternative for patients who need repeated scans because an MRI doesn't produce any radiation, whereas a CT scanner has quite a lot of radiation,” de Wet said.

β€œIt is safer for developing brains, for example of babies or pregnant mothers.”

The cost of the $640,000 scanner will pay for itself after 15 scans, de Wet calculated, also taking into account the cost of flying the patients to Ottawa.