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Scans are down but there’s no off-season for MR cooling

por John W. Mitchell, Senior Correspondent | September 04, 2020
An Advanced Cooling Technology crew at work on a recent install
From the September 2020 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By John W. Mitchell

The demand for MR upkeep does not go away just because the number of scans has been reduced. In fact, the summer months are often when cooling issues are most likely to arise.

With hospital and clinic imaging volumes down by about half during the pandemic and the crush of critically ill COVID-19 inpatients, Dick Branca, director of sales at Cool Pair Plus, and his team were concerned that attention to cooling might not be top-of-mind for some healthcare providers — and could have costly consequences.
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“We’ve been getting a lot of calls this month (July) for helium refills,” said Branca. “The slowdown in volumes due to the pandemic creates conditions that are especially problematic for MR cooling. It’s nights or weekends — and during a pandemic — when people aren’t paying attention that helium pressure builds, leaks, or you get oil contamination.”

Cool Pair Plus has not seen any catastrophic quenches this summer, where helium is vented violently and loudly as a fail-safe, but even routine service calls for low or contaminated helium recharges can become very expensive if left unattended. Typical helium corrections may cost between $8-10,000, with more severe cases, such as a quench, running upward of $30,000.

“You can save a lot of money by paying attention,” advised Branca. “While we’re in business to respond to our clients’ emergencies and to keep their MR units in the service of patients and generating needed overhead revenue, you have to remember that the MR is never ‘off’ — operators need to pay attention to cooling at all times.”

The pandemic offers built-in downtime
Even though MR use is down during the pandemic, cooling — or HVAC services — are continuing with business as usual. Chris Wong, vice president of operations with Advanced Cooling Technologies, said that while some clients have opted to delay regular chiller service to minimize the number of nonessential personnel on-site, most are keeping up with maintenance.

“The majority of our clients realize that chillers run twenty-four-seven to keep the MR magnet cool,” said Wong. “If the chiller breaks down, it becomes an emergency.”

Some MR providers, according to Wong, are even taking advantage of the pandemic slowdown as an opportunity to do the more involved service and preventative maintenance that requires taking the scanner offline. Powering down the unit means sacrificing scan revenue and operating income, so when better to do it than when scan volumes are already depleted?

Wong added that a scheduled shutdown can be a lot less cost-prohibitive when it’s completed during regular weekday hours, compared to the higher overhead of service on nights or weekends.

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