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News | Jan. 10, 2011

Langley's added MRI capability eliminates long hauls, delayed care

By Staff Sgt. Heidi Davis 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Effective Jan. 3, the USAF Hospital Langley Radiology Department expanded capabilities for Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Fort Lee and local Navy servicemembers with the addition of a magnetic resonance imaging trailer provided by Alliance Imaging.

An MRI uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses and a computer to produce detailed pictures of organs, soft tissues, bone and virtually all other internal body structures, which helps primary care managers determine the proper course of treatment for patients.

With the technology now available, patients can expect fewer delays in scheduling, appointment lengths and follow-up treatment as well as a shorter drive time as they will no longer be required to make the long trek to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.

"The biggest savings for the patients are conveniences," said Lt. Col. Mark Sankey, 633d Medical Group Radiology Department chief.

Up until a week ago when the trailer was made available, patients needed to wait 48 hours before activating an MRI referral to Portsmouth; therefore, from the time a patient's primary care manager ordered the referral to the post-MRI follow-up appointment 30 days had passed. Now, without the mandatory referral wait time, patients can expect an MRI at Langley within the week and a follow-up appointment with their PCM two days later.

"Portsmouth is very busy," he stressed. "It could take 20-30 days to get an MRI appointment and even then, it could take two to three days to get the results. Here, the Department saves one appointment slot per day to allow for emergencies." 

Not only will patients experience decreased wait times, but also increased customer service.

"Patients can see their doctor in this hospital, get their studies in this hospital and we can read the results," stressed Colonel Sankey. "Everything is compacted in the same area so patient care is all right here."

The trailer also eliminates personal inconveniences and unit mission impact associated with NMCP appointments. Depending upon the day and time of the appointment, patients faced anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours on the road, explained Colonel Sankey.

Tech. Sgt. Justin Schacht, 36th Intelligence Squadron Combat Targeting Flight Point Mensuration NCOIC, is all-too-familiar with the drive having been to NMCP eight times in the past three years for knee-related MRIs. Using his averages, patients typically spent 60 minutes driving each way, 30 minutes in the waiting room and 45 minutes in the MRI. At just over four hours, units struggled to compensate for lost man-hours.

"It's almost a given that if I, or someone else, had to go to NMCP for an MRI a half day's work would be lost," Sergeant Schacht explained. "To compensate, some units required the Airmen to come in outside their normal duty hours or required a day of leave for the appointment."

While the MRI trailer eliminates these headaches and setbacks, Colonel Sankey has his eyes on an even brighter future: an in-house MRI, which will expand services to include patient sedation, biopsies and breast MRs. For now, the colonel sees high payback potential for the Department and community.

"As radiologist, we love our technology, Colonel Sankey said with excitement for the future. It's a very advanced piece of machinery. It benefits the physicians and patients, so that makes it a big deal."