MRI Scanner Accidents on the Rise

ByABC News via logo
August 22, 2005, 9:11 AM

Aug. 22, 2005 — -- Magnetic resonance imaging has been called the most important tool for doctors since the X-ray was invented more than 100 years ago, but an article in The New York Times on Friday is calling the safety of the machines into question.

The number of MRI scanners in the United States has soared from a handful in 1980 to about 10,000 today, and the magnets have quadrupled in power during that time. With the increase of diagnostic scans being performed, which can detect dozens of serious ailments such as tumors and stroke, medical experts are concerned about the number of careless accidents that have caused serious injury and even death.

In 2001, Michael Colombini, 6, was killed while undergoing an MRI when an oxygen tank flew out of the hands of an anesthesiologist toward the machine, hitting him in the head.

In 2003, a New Mexico woman sued a Los Alamos hospital, claiming the magnetic pull of an MRI caused an oxygen tank to hit her in the back.

In 1992, a 74-year-old woman hemorrhaged and died after an aneurysm clip in her brain shifted while she was on a table preparing for an MRI.

Dr. Emanuel Kanal, who helped write the MRI safety guidelines for the American College of Radiology, says dozens of similar accidents occur each year due to "pilot error."

"It's my opinion that the majority of the incidents that have occurred have been as a result to what I referred to as pilot error or how the procedure was performed," Kanal said. "I believe there is a strong 'it couldn't happen here' mentality. I don't believe people are quite aware of the potential problems that can occur, the substantial severity that could occur."

Dr. Moriel NessAiver is a physicist who teaches MRI safety to hospital personnel at the University of Maryland, where he is an assistant professor of radiology. He demonstrated for "Good Morning America" the dangers of bringing metal into a room with the powerful MRI magnets.

"Overall, it is an extremely safe procedure, but like all powerful pieces of equipment, there are rules that have to be followed," NessAiver said.