13th January 2008, 06:53 PM
This is so exciting, it's finally up and running!
13th January 2008, 09:04 PM
hanks for that! People are asked to register so am posting the piece to make it easier to read. There's an image of a cavalier being MRId with the piece at the link Jen posted.
When Mr. Muggles needs an MRI
The U is investing in state-of-the-art diagnostics to satisfy the demands of people willing to go the financial distance for a pet.
BY CHRISTOPHER SNOWBECK
Article Last Updated: 01/12/2008 11:56:00 PM CST
As an intubated Zoey, a 10-month-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, lies anesthetized on a prep table, Dr. Daniel Almeida, left, secures electrocardiogram leads at the University of Minnesota veterinary school Tuesday. The school began using a new magnetic resonance imaging machine for animals this month. (RICHARD MARSHALL, Pioneer Press)
Veterinarians have serious pet peeves when it comes to getting animals ready for MRI exams.
First: Any dog or cat going through the scanner should not be wearing a tag or collar, they say.
And second: Before imaging a horse, it's essential that all horseshoes be removed.
That's because MRIs use strong magnetic fields to generate detailed images of body parts, and that force can powerfully - and dangerously - suck a horseshoe or other metallic object into the heart of a scanner.
These are among the rules being enforced at the University of Minnesota's Veterinary Medical Center as veterinarians this month begin using the state's first permanent MRI machine for animals. For about $1,000, owners of dogs, cats and certain other creatures can pay the U to provide scans that could help diagnose problems in the brain, spinal cord and joints.
Many veterinary teaching hospitals around the country already offer patients some kind of access to MRI scans. But U officials say the $1.7 million machine that was first used on Jan. 3 offers some of the most advanced features of any MRI being used on animals.
The university says it invested in the technology to satisfy the demands of animal owners.
"People, I think, are more aware of (MRI) use in human medicine, and often times what happens is that people want the same kind of capabilities for their animals, as well," said Dr. David Lee, hospital director of the U's Veterinary Medical Center. "MRI use is more mainstream now."
The installation of MRI technology at the U is the latest example of the trend toward high-tech health care for pets. Like other states, Minnesota has seen an increase in the number of veterinary specialists providing care to animals.
While some of those specialists are in private practice, the university continues to be a hub for advanced veterinary services.
In the past year, the U installed a new linear accelerator to provide radiation treatments for cancer and began offering
knee replacement surgeries. University officials are in negotiations to begin offering an "ultrasound lithotripsy" service, which would allow for nonsurgical treatment of kidney stones.
People without pets might gasp at the prospect of paying thousands of dollars for a dog or cat's health care, but pet owners continue to show willingness to foot the bills.
In 2006, total veterinary expenditures for all household pets were estimated at $24.5 billion, according to a report released in December by American Veterinary Medical Association. After adjusting for inflation, that represented an increase of 13.4 percent compared with spending in 2001, according to the veterinary medical association, which is based in suburban Chicago.
The number of U.S. households owning pets grew to 68.7 million in 2006 from 61.1 million in 2001, an increase of 12.4 percent. And nearly half of all pet owners in 2006 - 49.7 percent - said they considered their pets to be family members.
That "family member" distinction has a clear financial impact for veterinarians.
The AVMA survey found mean veterinary expenditures in dog-only households, for example, were $494 in 2006 when owners viewed their pets as family members. In homes where dogs were considered pets or companions, the mean veterinary expenditure was much lower at $278.
The rate of increase in overall spending on veterinary care leveled off a bit between 2001 and 2006, compared with the previous five-year period, said Jim Flanigan, director of marketing with the AVMA. But that in no way suggests there isn't a market for high-end services such as MRIs, Flanigan said.
"People who are bonded to their pets are demanding a higher quality of care," Flanigan said. "This isn't about price."
Iowa State University installed an MRI machine for veterinary use just last year, and the demand has been so great that the school is hiring more radiologists, said Dr. Sally Prickett, director of the university's veterinary teaching hospital in Ames.
Iowa State does not release numbers about MRI use, Prickett said, but dogs constitute the largest group of patients for the MRI machine. The price of a scan can vary but tends to fall somewhere between $800 and $1,200,
At the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, scans of small animals usually cost about $1,000, said spokeswoman Tania Banak. The university started offering MRI scans through a portable service in 1990 before switching to an onsite machine in 2001, she said.
"We do approximately 150 to 180 MRI scans per year," Banak said. "Most are on dogs."
University of Minnesota officials said they used a mobile MRI machine for about nine months, although such machines cannot accommodate horses. MRIs for small animals at the U will cost about $1,000, while scans for horses will cost about $2,000 each.
"A big part of the business model is making this available to doctors in the community," said Lee, the U official. "The Twin Cities market isn't large enough for two or three of these machines."
About 10 years ago, veterinarians thought dogs with seizures were suffering from brain tumors - a bleak diagnosis as there were no treatment options, said Dr. Travis Saveraid, a radiologist at the U. But MRI scans have demonstrated that some dogs suffer seizures because they are having strokes, which bring a much better potential outcome with proper care, Saveraid said.
What's more, veterinarians now can do surgery to remove brain tumors, and those procedures are aided by MRI scans, Saveraid said. Similarly, MRI scans help guide surgeries to remove ruptured discs and thereby relieve spinal cord compression that is causing limb weakness.
And MRI scans of shoulders and elbows offer a whole new avenue of care.
"Your dog going out to the Frisbee park on the weekend is really a weekend warrior," Saveraid said. "When we go out and play football on the weekend and tear up our knee, the first thing we do is go get an MRI. That's what we can now offer pets."
The increased use of MRI exams in humans, of course, has caused some discomfort for health insurers that finance the care costs. In the Twin Cities, for example, Minnetonka-based Medica introduced a controversial program in 2007 intended to reduce inappropriate and unnecessary use of imaging services including MRI scans.
The company also has a consumer campaign called MainStreetMedica designed to educate patients about the full cost of services. That Web site suggests there is more variability in MRI pricing for humans - anywhere from $700 to more than $2,000 from a brain scan, for example - than there is in the veterinary world.
Larry Bussey, a spokesman for Medica, said he wasn't surprised to hear there is more price consistency in the veterinary world because health insurance tends to make human patients less interested in prices.
"You've got a real market at work (in veterinary medicine) where people are paying out of their pocket, and they know what the price is," Bussey said.
Scott Murray, 43, of Bloomington, said he questioned whether his dog Zoey really needed to undergo her MRI scan this week at the U but ultimately was convinced the expense was worth it. Two days after the imaging test on Tuesday, Zoey underwent disc surgery to resolve a problem that was "sawing away at the nerves," Murray said.
Zoey is one of two Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppies Murray bought this spring. Murray, his wife and two children fell in love with the dogs but noticed in October that Zoey would occasionally yelp out of nowhere.
It happened once or twice a week, and an initial trip to the veterinarian found no obvious problems. But the yelping increased in frequency in December until one morning Zoey could barely walk out of her cage.
U veterinarians examined Zoey and thought the problem stemmed from a pinched nerve in the neck. The MRI test backed up the diagnosis and suggested the dog needed surgery as soon as possible, Murray said.
"It's so easy to armchair-quarterback this when it's someone else's dog and ask why would you spend so much money," Murray said, adding he has done it himself. But spending the money makes sense "when it's your own, and the dog has become a part of your family."
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