MRI exams are as prevalent during or after an NFL game as they are at the average metro imaging center. It’s not uncommon for four or five players from each team to need an MRI exam to determine the extent of suspected injuries, according to Timothy McAdams, MD, president of the NFL Physicians Society and head team physician for the San Francisco 49ers.
Dr. McAdams shared his perspective with writer Beth W, Orenstein in the October 22 edition of Radiology Today.
Generally, players have to be scheduled for their MRI no earlier than the next day at a hospital or imaging center near where the team plays or practices.
Recognizing that many players who undergo MRI exams are not seriously injured, the possibility of doing in-stadium exams provides an opportunity for players to return to action prior to the end of the game.
Until now, that scenario was nothing but hopeful thinking. However, one team has recognized the benefit of speedy MRI and placed an MRI scanner on the ground floor of Paycor Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Orenstein reports that Stephen Pomeranz, MD, a radiologist and CEO Chris Collinsworth of ProScan Imaging, and former Bengals wide receiver and current NBC pro football announcer teamed up to pitch the idea of installing an MRI scanner in the stadium
Bengals ownership concurred, recognizing the possibility of allowing slightly injured players the chance to safely return to the field while providing a diagnosis of more severe injuries for quicker intervention. Both teams playing at Paycor have access to the scanner.
“Because football players are often quite large, we needed an open MRI, “ Pomeranz said. Once the Bengals’ owners agreed to place the MRI the challenge was getting it there and placing it.
Orenstein described the challenges; getting the scanner to the site required real creativity on the part of the engineers overseeing the project.
The solution was to move it on wheels via a railroad track designed and built especially for this purpose.
Siting the scanner was also a challenge. First, space is at a premium in an NFL stadium, and second, MRI machines are highly sensitive to vibration.
“With 60,000 fans in the stands, you can imagine the amount of vibration that’s transmitted down into the basement where the scanner is located,” Pomeranz said.
Any movement is not ideal for an MRI scanner, an expensive machine. The problem was solved by floating the scanner on inflatable airbags.
Orenstein described how a second, very important problem was solved. Scanners are expensive and incur ongoing costs, such as staffing and servicing the equipment. To offset some of the expenses, Pro Scan Imaging opened the Bengals’ MRI to the public for scans Monday through Saturday.
ProScan Imaging has added other equipment that isn’t open to the public. Rather, it’s used for other professional and college teams, “We do a lot of screening for players that they are thinking of signing,” Pomeranz said. Screening needs may include MRI scans and sometimes such screening requires other imaging.
The forward-thinking Bengals have used their stadium MRI to benefit professional teams, college teams, and the citizens of Cincinnati in need of MRI Services.