SINGAPORE - Imagine reclining in an ergonomic armchair and watching a concert recording of your favourite singer while you get your finger or leg scanned by an extremity magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner.
Whoever thought that getting a diagnostic imaging could be an enjoyable experience?
But with this extremity scanner, you may, for the duration of the 30-minute scan, almost forget that you are in a hospital.
The room that you are in is smaller and cosier than the rooms housing the traditional full-body MRI machines.
The best part about the extremity scanner is that you do not have to lie on your back and hold still while you are sent through an enclosed tunnel as in the case of the standard full-body MRI machine.
While an MRI scan is painless, the thought of lying in an enclosed space can make some people so edgy that they have to be sedated.
"The main problem with the full-body machine is that people get claustrophobic. They start moving, so the images are not clear. This prolongs the session," said Dr Toh Kok Hong, a consultant radiologist at ParkwayHealth Radiology.
"With the new system, the patient's joints are placed in a more comfortable position and they can distract themselves by watching TV."
The bad news is that the extremity scanner is only for small body parts, which include all parts of the arms and legs.
Those who need an MRI scan of their shoulders, hips or brain, for instance, still have to use the noisier and more intimidating full-body machine.
Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, which recently brought in an extremity scanner, said the machine with the entertainment system is the first and only one of its kind in the ASEAN region.
It costs $840 to use the extremity scanner, which is about the same for the full-sized MRI machine.
Khoo Teck Puat Hospital also has an extremity scanner, without the entertainment system, which it started using in February last year.
Both machines have a magnetic field strength of 1.5 teslas, equal to that of the full-body MRI scanner.
While other new diagnostic imaging machines may not provide the patient with a significantly different experience like the extremity MRI scanner does, they benefit the patient in other ways.
Manufacturers are constantly coming up with better diagnostic imaging machines with sharper images or lower radiation doses to allay concerns about excessive radiation.
This is good news as everyone will probably have to go through some scans in his lifetime.
Common scans, such as chest X-rays, ultrasound scans and mammograms (X-ray images of the breast), are often used for regular health-screening purposes.
The simple X-rays, such as chest or dental X-rays, give off a tiny amount of harmful or ionising radiation, but not all scans use radiation.
For instance, MRI scans, which are often used for the brain, spinal cord or joints, use magnetic waves to provide visual contrast between the different soft tissues of the body.
Ultrasound scans also do not have harmful radiation. These use high-frequency sound waves to create images of organs and structures inside the body, and are commonly used to confirm a pregnancy, screen for birth defects or to evaluate a breast lump. It is a painless process that does not cause discomfort.
Different views of the body
Other scans that have some radiation are computed tomography (CT) scans and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.
CT scans combine multiple X-rays through computer processing to provide cross-sectional images of the tissues and bones in the body. They can pinpoint the exact location and size of an abnormal growth.
While both CT and MRI scans can scan various parts of the body, such as the heart and abdomen, the CT scan is better suited for bone injuries, lung injuries and for detecting cancer, while the MRI scan is better for examining soft tissues.
The PET scan is a nuclear medicine imaging procedure that involves injecting the patient with radioactive isotopes bound to a dye that can identify diseased cells on a scan.
It offers images of the biological processes within the body, while the CT and MRI scans provide anatomic information.
Doctors also now use the PET-CT scan to diagnose cancer as it can show the location of an abnormal growth and how fast it is growing.
This machine takes multiple X-rays of your body, while a radioactive drug will flag areas of the body where the abnormal cells are.
The latest advancement in diagnostic imaging is the PET-MRI machine, which is particularly useful in detecting cancer and seeing how fast it has spread, said Dr Toh.
The advantage of this over the PET-CT scan is that it emits less radiation.
Dr Toh said: "This means that those who come for repeated treatment are not exposed to unnecessarily high amounts of radiation."
The machine hit the market about one to two years ago and, so far, only Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital has it, he said.
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