The Perfect Fit for Rural Health

Boone County Health Center in Albion, Nebraska, first opened back in 1950, ensuring that patients from the seven rural counties it serves could receive care without making the long drive to Lincoln or Omaha. One constant in those 69-plus years has been the hospital’s commitment to excellence, making each decision with care and compassion, and the latest example of that philosophy can be seen in its recent installation of Hitachi’s Echelon Oval 1.5T MRI scanner.

Boone County already had a strong working relationship with Hitachi when the time came to bring in a new scanner, but the hospital still did its due diligence and looked at what other vendors had to offer. Its three MRI technologists all travelled to see what nearby hospitals were using and even toured a few vendor offices along the way. At the end of the day, however, they realized that Hitachi and the Oval were everything they wanted and more.

“We felt like we had to at least see what else was available,” says Melissa Wiese, RT (R) (CT) (MR), an MR technologist at Boone County. “But we knew going in that we loved Hitachi and we wanted to stay with them if possible. We also wanted to stand out a bit and have something a bit different than some other Nebraska hospitals, something really special. And that’s exactly what we got with the Oval.”  

Unbeatable Customer Service

One of the biggest things that makes the Oval so special, according to the hospital’s staff, is the help they receive from Hitachi whenever anyone has a question.  

Cindra Steinbach, RT (R) (CT) (MR), another MR technologist at Boone County, describes the company’s customer service as “absolutely amazing” and says everyone at the hospital is “blown away” by how easy it is to reach a representative. 

You always talk to an actual person, she adds, instead of a string of automated voices. And in the rare instance you can’t get an immediate answer, you always hear back in less than 20 minutes.

“If I’m having difficulty with a specific patient, Hitachi’s customer service team can steer me toward a modified protocol or give me tips that can help me get that patient scanned and taken care of as quickly as possible,” she says. “And every single customer representative who answers the phone is knowledgeable, so you aren’t being handed off from one person to the next whenever a question comes up.”

Holly Carraher, BSRT (R) (MR), Boone County’s third MR technologist, says she was glad to see the hospital bring in another Hitachi solution after already being such a big fan of their customer service. 

“They are always there for us when we need them,” she says. “I’ve always been impressed with their attitudes and how easy they are to work with whenever we have any kind of questions of issues.”

Steinbach agrees, noting that the service from Hitachi goes well beyond answering questions. While working toward American College of Radiology (ACR) accreditation, Hitachi’s ACR Accreditation Specialist was able to help guide them through the entire process. She checked their image quality, ensuring it was strong enough to meet the ACR’s high standards, and even studied the team’s internal processes to see where improvements could be made.

Hitachi’s customer service also impressed the technologists when the Oval was first installed at the hospital. The company provides two weeks of training with any new install, but Boone County’s team felt confident after just one week working with the scanner.  A second week was spent training on MRA specialty work, and if additional help is needed, Hitachi has said they will return to help at no added cost.    

“It’s much more support than you would necessarily expect to receive from a vendor, and it makes a huge difference,” Steinbach says.

The Widest Bore on the Market

Another key detail that stands out about the Oval is its 74-cm bore, which gives patients more space than any other 1.5T MR system on the market. Competing systems offer a 70-cm bore, and patients do say that they notice the difference provided by those additional 4 cm.

“I actually just treated a patient this week who was freaking out when she first saw the machine,” Steinbach says. “But once we got her inside, she just couldn’t believe the space above her head. Before, she told us, these machines always made her feel like she had no space to do anything. But we had room to put pillows under her arms and she even had room to scoot to the side if needed. It’s just helpful to have that wide bore for so many reasons.”

It also helps Boone County pull in patients that would traditionally seek care from other health systems. Steinbach notes that the shape of the Oval helps providers scan patients of all sizes. Patients also benefit from its detachable patient table, which is 63 cm wide and holds up to 550 pounds. The table was specifically designed for making it convenient for patients to be transferred as quickly as possible.

Everyone Agrees: The Oval is a Perfect Fit

When Boone County’s MR technologists are asked about their favorite benefit of using the Oval, it’s hard for them pick just one. Steinbach praises the faster acquisition times, noting that scans consistently are 15-20 minutes faster than they were in the past. The speedier protocols make her own workday more productive, she adds, but it also makes the patients much happier with their overall experience. She also notes that the Oval’s interface is incredibly user-friendly, which helps the technologists spend less time wondering how to do certain things and more time taking care of their patients.

Wiese, meanwhile, brings up a system highlight that helps users improve their productivity.

“I love how the pause button allows us to stop the scan momentarily to answer a patient question or address an issue,” she says. “And bringing up information related to multiple patients at once allows us to prepare for one scan while we complete the previous one. It saves time and helps our entire department work more efficiently.”

The Oval has also received glowing reviews from the very specialists who interpret its images on a daily basis.

“The radiologists all say the Oval is a huge step forward across the board,” Wiese says. “They are very happy with the image quality.”

Outside physicians are equally impressed. Though Boone County isn’t large enough to have a lot of subspecialists on staff, neurologists and orthopedic doctors do come through for monthly or bi-monthly healthcare clinics. The Oval allows these specialists to order more scans locally instead of sending patients to hospitals miles and miles away. This keeps more business from leaving town, saves patients valuable time and helps keep the subspecialists coming back repeatedly.

Even Tanya Sharp, Boone County CEO, has been thrilled with the Hitachi partnership.

“It was wonderful working with Hitachi,” Sharp says. “I felt valued and heard throughout the entire process.  Even now that the transaction is complete, the sales team still checks in on me—not necessarily for more business but just to be present and maintain a strong relationship. I really appreciate that.”

Patients, technologists, radiologists, subspecialists and the CEO all agree that the Oval has helped Boone County better serve its patients. Nearly seven decades after first opening its doors, the hospital’s long-standing commitment to excellence is still standing strong.