Hospitals Put Competition Aside to Obtain New Medical Device

Times Staff Writer

Glendale's two largest hospitals--Glendale Adventist Medical Center and Memorial Hospital of Glendale--usually are more competitive than cooperative.

But keeping up the rivalry, at least in the expensive field of radiology, would cost each hospital nearly $2 million. Cooperation, Glendale Memorial President Bill Parente said, is easier on both the pocketbook and the nerves.

For about the last year, physicians and administrators from both hospitals have been getting together to plan a new, jointly run facility that will feature a medical device widely heralded as a breakthrough in the early detection of several major diseases.

Glendale Adventist officials said purchasing the device, called a magnetic resonance imaging scanner, or MRI, is the only capital investment project the two hospitals have ever undertaken together.

The MRI device costs $1.5 million. Because of the intense magnetic waves it generates, the scanner requires its own building, which is expected to be purchased this week, Parente said.

'Wave of the Future'

"These MRI scanners are considered to be the wave of the future, and it's ridiculous to compete when costs are so high," said Glendale Adventist neural radiologist Bonnie Flannigan, who helped plan the jointly run facility. "We really hope this will serve as an example to other community hospitals as a way to cut costs."

By June the Glendale Adventist and Memorial MRI Institute should be ready to accept patients at its facility on South Central Avenue. The 310-bed Memorial and 452-bed Glendale Adventist hospitals and an incorporated group of radiologists will operate the MRI scanner.

Although costly to patients, the scanner is considered safer and far more effective than existing diagnostic tools in spotting early signs of diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and Alzheimer's disease. The cost of a scanner diagnosis has been put at between $600 and $700, Glendale Adventist spokesman Jim Gallagher said.

Officials for both hospitals said the idea to cooperate on the project came about because they agreed that, if one hospital decided to buy an MRI scanner, the other would feel compelled to do likewise to stay competitive.

About 60 hospitals nationwide have purchased MRI scanners. The devices are so popular that patients have to book two weeks in advance for treatment at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, which purchased one last year.

Cost Factor

"Competition has increased dramatically among hospitals in the last few years, and what we're seeing is that there is a lot of risk now for one hospital to go out on its own and possibly fail," Parente said. "Since the project is so expensive, we felt it would be best to team up."

A three-pronged funding approach will be used finance the project. Each hospital will provide one-quarter of the funding and a group of 14 radiologists, who have incorporated under the name Adventist and Memorial MRI Medical Group, will pay the remainder. The venture is expected to be profitable because one-third to one-half of all patients who currently receive diagnoses through various radiation techniques could get a better diagnosis on the MRI scanner, Parente said.

Glendale Memorial spokeswoman Gay Hammitt said the hospital is expecting that within one year about 70 patients a week will be diagnosed with the scanner.

Converted Mortuary

The institute will be located in the 700 block of South Central Avenue in a converted mortuary. The building, which is needed because the scanner's powerful magnetic waves may damage other equipment if it was placed in one of the hospitals, will require few major renovations, officials said.

MRI scanners first became available about four years ago and are in use at a handful of health-care facilities in the Los Angeles area, Flannigan said.

The devices, which include a magnet about the size of a small car, are safer than previous scanning techniques because patients are not exposed to radiation and do not have to have dyes injected into their bodies, Flannigan said.

Instead, patients lie inside the MRI scanner, which creates an intense magnetic field that causes the body's hydrogen atoms to line up. Then a radio signal is aimed at the field from a 90-degree angle, which forces the atoms to turn toward the field. When the signal is turned off, the atoms return to their original position, emitting energy in the process.

Computer Used

That energy is then captured by a computer, which turns it into a picture that physicians can analyze.

"The whole process lets us look inside a body like we've never been able to do before," Flannigan said.

The MRI scanner is particularly effective in spotting diseases of the brain and spinal cord and can detect the early forms of tumors and several forms of cancer, especially breast cancer.

Because of the strength of the magnetic field, people with pacemakers or metals objects in their bodies, such as pins used to strengthen leg joints, cannot be diagnosed with an MRI.

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