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Cardiac MRI Accreditation

Cardiac MRI Accreditation - First in PA

St. Luke's Hospital - Bethlehem Campus is the First Hospital in PA, Fifth in Nation to Earn ACR Recognition in Cardiac MRI

Marcus Averbach, MD

Bethlehem, PA (11-6-2008) - St. Luke's Hospital – Bethlehem Campus is the first hospital in Pennsylvania, and the fifth in the nation, to earn accreditation from the American College of Radiology (ACR) for cardiac MRI services.

“The ACR accreditation demonstrates that St. Luke's has the expertise and the quality MRI equipment, software and personnel to perform and interpret these studies at the same high-caliber level as some of the top medical institutions in the country such as Yale and the Cleveland Clinic,” said Marcus Averbach, MD, St. Luke's medical director of cardiac MRI. “This recognition validates St. Luke's commitment to quality patient care, as well as the assurance to patients and families that our image quality, staff and equipment have passed very rigorous evaluations by an outside organization.”

Cardiac MRI is performed to provide detailed, high-resolution images of the structures of the heart, as well as to reveal heart and valve function in a three-dimensional, black-and-white, live-action “movie.” Dr. Averbach likens the high image quality that is obtained with cardiac MRI with an IMAX theater. The strength of the study, said Dr. Averbach, is that clear images are obtained for virtually every patient who undergoes this study.

Cardiac MRI is used to diagnose heart muscle damage (fibrosis) after a heart attack, heart tumors, blood clots, heart valve disorders, congenital heart abnormalities and diseases of the pericardium.

The technology uses radio waves and magnets, so sometimes cardiac MRI is used as an alternative to avoid repeated radiation exposures. Because the technology shows differentiation of soft tissues and can view organs without obstruction of bone, the study is commonly used to help explain results from other tests when the diagnosis is unclear.

Cardiac MRI is sometimes used to avoid invasive procedures and other radiology tests that require the use of dyes containing iodine. Another advantage of the test includes its capability of showing tissues from multiple viewpoints and is a non-invasive way to evaluate blood flow.

Some patients are not able to utilize the technology, though, as the test is not safe for individuals with pacemakers. “Typical” patients are men and women aged 50 and over, although Dr. Averbach has seen younger patients, many times to diagnose inherited diseases that are much harder to detect with other imaging modalities. The cardiac MRI technology is covered by insurance plans.

A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Averbach earned his medical degree at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He completed his residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and a clinical fellowship in cardiology – non-invasive imaging/cardiac MRI at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

Dr. Averbach is certified to read cardiovascular MRI studies. He holds certifications in ACC/AHA Level III Cardiac MRI and COCATS Level III Echocardiography.

In addition to the physician who interprets the images, St. Luke's MRI technologists are sub-specialty trained, which means they are all trained specifically to image patients for cardiac MRI.

According to Tina Freeman, RT (R) (MR), MRI clinical specialist, this makes a big difference for patients.

“Since cardiac MRIs may take between a half hour and 45 minutes, we interact with each patient in order to help them through the sequences of breath-holding involved during the exam,” she said. “Each patient is counseled that not only can we hear them if they need help, but that they can hear us through headphones. Everyone is different, so we work closely with each patient to get the best possible images.”

Specialized software allows St. Luke's MRI magnet to complete cardiac MRI studies and the digital images are uploaded for Dr. Averbach to interpret. He takes approximately a half hour to review the images for each patient and files a report with the images to the referring physician to consult with the patient. Dr. Averbach will sometimes allow his patients to view their images and explain the findings.

“Cardiac MRI is a highly individualized study,” he said. “Each case is unique and each study requires a very hands-on interpretation.”

Dr. Averbach is enthusiastic about the GE technology that is used at St. Luke's and is looking forward to the next generation of cardiac MRI equipment.

“The surface has barely been scratched in the future of cardiac MRI,” said Dr. Averbach. “The rapidly expanding field will yield technology that not only can show us the valve function and structures of the heart, but it will also allow us to examine the arteries into the heart to find coronary heart disease with one test. I find it extremely exciting to be on the forefront of this developing technology and being able to apply it clinically to our patients.” He indicated that St. Luke's future will include cardiac stress testing using MRI to tell whether patients have significant less blood flow to the heart during simulated exertion – this will be another way to identify blockages or narrowing of the arteries.

ACR is a national organization serving more than 32,000 diagnostic-interventional radiologists, radiation oncologists and nuclear medicine and medical physicists with programs focusing on the practice of medical imaging, radiation oncology and the delivery of comprehensive health care services.

The medical organization awards accreditation to facilities for achievement of high practice standards after a peer-review evaluation of practice, according to ACR. Evaluations are conducted by board-certified physicians and medical physicists who are experts in the field. The surveyors report their findings to the ACR's Committee on Accreditation which subsequently provides hospitals with a comprehensive report. The accreditation for cardiac MRI is valid for three years.