A Publication of WTVP

The new Caring Suite takes patient panic out of the MRI experience.

Triumph over her worst fears turned Tricia Buskirk into an evangelist of sorts. “I’m a very private person,” she explains. But her journey into the new wide-bore MRI machine in the Caring Suite at the OSF HealthCare Center for Health on Route 91 in Peoria transformed her.

“When I was diagnosed with cancer [in October 2014], I didn’t post anything on Facebook,” Buskirk explains. “But when I did this MRI [last month], I was on Facebook that night, going, ‘Yeah, I did that.’”

Her first encounter four years ago with the traditional MRI machine was a nightmare. Buskirk is claustrophobic, and despite empathetic care from staff and a dose of Valium, she admits she “freaked out” as soon as she lay down and the technologist began to slide her into the machine. 

Her experience with the old machine is not uncommon. About 10 percent of OSF HealthCare patients sent for an MRI are unable to complete the exam, and have to reschedule or rely on alternative tests. Others find ways to manage their anxiety—but would rather not relive that 23.5”-diameter tube with its racket of mechanical rattles and buzzes. 

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields and radio waves to provide pictures of soft tissue in the body. It’s particularly helpful for diagnosing strokes, and the new wide-bore technology has allowed OSF HealthCare to expand its screening program for high-risk breast cancer patients. The procedure is safe and pain-free. But an MRI is of no use if a patient won’t—or physically can’t—endure the test.

The 1,700-square-foot Caring Suite opened in November and is designed to remedy that. The wide-bore unit is also more accessible to physically larger patients, and it has shorter scan times and enhanced imagery as well. The diameter of the patient tube in the wide-bore machine is 27.5 inches—and those four additional inches can feel like 400 miles of wide-open spaces.

Hardwood floors in the Caring Suite simulate a living room. A grove of trees projected onto the ceiling gives patients a soothing scene to look at. Colored lighting fills the room. Music pumps through headphones to set whatever mood the patient desires. 

Before the MRI starts, the patient chooses the colors and music style. “The staff has fun with the colors and music,” notes Jamie White, manager of ambulatory CT and MRI at the Center for Health. The expanding menu on the customized color-wheel software includes “Purple Rain,” The Beatles and “Da Bears’” orange. “It’s like going into a spa. You instantly get relaxed because of the atmosphere. It’s all about the patient experience, and the feedback so far has been unbelievable.”

Buskirk offers enthusiastic testimony for the new machine, adding that the mere sight of the traditional MRI invoked images of a coffin. “I felt like they would be shutting the door and leaving me,” she recalls. “I would put off going to my oncologist because I was afraid she would order an MRI.”

The new Caring Suite MRI changed everything. “It was a milestone,” Buskirk declares. “I want people to know, you can do this. It’s a good experience.” iBi