Determining which MRI equipment is the best choice for your imaging center can be a complex undertaking.  Advances in MRI technology have drastically improved imaging quality, speed and safety.  But is faster MRI better, and at what cost? 3T MRIs typically cost twice as much as 1.5T equipment, but there are many other factors besides cost that play into making the best equipment buying decision.  Weighing the benefits and shortcomings of both 1.5T and 3T MRI is the best way to choose the equipment that is right for your facility’s usage, budget, and volume needs.

In this blog we will consider the pros and cons of both the 1.5T and 3T MRI based on five contributing factors: image quality, speed, cost, differentiation, and safety.

1.5T vs. 3T MRI – A Comparison

IMAGE QUALITY

The Pros. Image quality is key for the most accurate patient diagnoses and both MRIs offer superior imaging capabilities. The 3T MRI is the most powerful equipment today, and the 1.5T short-bore MRI remains the standard and most-used technology for MRI scanners, and with good reason.

  • 1.5T MRI are tried and true machines that produce high quality imaging results.
  • With a magnetic field strength that is twice as powerful as a 1.5T, the 3T MRI provides extremely clear and vivid images.
  • The 3T is ideal for brain, vascular, musculoskeletal and small bone imaging.
  • Longer sequences with 1.5T scans can also greatly improve image quality.

The Cons. Disadvantages of either MRI equipment mainly hinge on the type of scans being performed.

  • The level of clarity of a 1.5T image is less effective for studies requiring minute detail such as brain scans.
  • The 3T has a higher likelihood of artifacts appearing in the image due to the movement of blood or fluid and creates additional heat and noise than the 1.5T.

SPEED/THROUGHPUT

The Pros.  When there is a high patient volume, speed takes on greater importance. A shorter scan time is beneficial to an imaging facility with high patient volumes, and patients gain from reduced scan times in terms of diagnosis and comfort.

  • Because the image quality of an MRI depends on signal and field strength, having double the signal strength allows a 3T MRI to be done faster, decreasing overall scan time.
  • You can shorten scan times with a 1.5T system with some minor sacrifice of image quality.
  • If throughput is a major concern, a 3T system can shorten scans without compromising the quality of the image.
  • Low volume facilities where speed is of less concern can maintain high quality images with a 1.5T system.

The Cons. The issue of speed is only a disadvantage in high-volume scanning facilities where throughput is an issue.

  • While it’s possible to improve image quality with longer sequencing 1.5T scans, this can cause delays and bottlenecks in your department, affecting wait times, patient satisfaction, and ultimately your revenue.
  • Using a 3T system specifically for its rate of speed for when a quality 1.5T scan image can do the same job is cost-prohibitive.

COST

The Pros.  Cost is typically the main driver when it comes to purchasing expensive medical equipment and the cost difference between the 1.5T and 3T is considerable.

  • An imaging facility’s primary concern is the cost-benefit ratio of an intended purchase and a 1.5T system and its replacement parts are more readily available than the 3T.
  • The imaging speed of the 3T can have a greater impact on operational efficiency.

The Cons.

  • Even on the secondary market the price tag for a 3T could easily be double what you’d pay for a 1.5T.
  • Maintenance and repair also cost more on the 3T machine.
  • It is also important to note that while a 3T system is the costlier of the two options, Medicare, Medicaid and private payors reimburse the same amount for an MRI exam regardless of magnet strength.

DIFFERENTIATION

The Pros.  Any investment in new equipment is ultimately an investment in marketing.

  • Upgrading to a 3T system can help differentiate one imaging center from another.
  • Advanced equipment may not only draw patients and referrals but also attract specialty physicians like orthopedists and neurologists who prefer to work with greater magnet strength and enhanced images for diagnosis.

The Cons.  While 3T technology offers enhanced imaging and speed, if images are typically less detailed or your facility’s pace is less hectic, the dependable 1.5T system can provide all you need to produce high-quality images for diagnosis.

SAFETY

The Pros.  Safety remains a significant concern in the world of MRI, and under strict safety guidelines patients can be scanned equally as safe in both 1.5T and 3T systems in most circumstances.

The Cons.  Patients with implants or devices are safest in a 1.5T magnet.  Patients who are pregnant should also avoid 3T systems.

The Verdict

Both the 3T and 1.5T produce exceptional images, making either magnet a sustainable option. 1.5T systems continue to be the most-used MRI equipment today, offering a safe, secure environment for patients and quality images for diagnosis.  If your facility has a large concentration of delicate imaging work, or if volume and throughput is a major concern and your department is the bottleneck, it may be worth investing in a 3T system.  Keep in mind the above pros and cons as you research both systems.  Whether you ultimately decide on the dependable 1.5T or invest in the faster, costlier 3T should depend on your facility’s usage and budget.  Either way, you can sure that your facility will be using the best MRI equipment available today.

At KMG, we believe it our responsibility as your partner is to help you assess your equipment needs.  Contact Eric Evans our Director of Imaging Solutions, today if you’re contemplating a 1.5T or 3T MRI purchase.