John Feehery: Speaking Engagements



Posted on June 29, 2010

MRI / Photo credit: Jan Ainali

There are two things that can ruin an MRI scan.   One of them is metal.  The other is Obamacare.

The MRI machine was first used on a human being on July 3, 1977.  Three doctors, Dr. Raymond Damadian, Dr. Larry Minkoff and Dr. Michael Goldsmith, worked for 7 years on their machine, which they called the “Indomitable.”

The MRI’s most important component is a huge magnet, which is why it is pretty dangerous to bring any kind of metal object into a room where a MRI is being used.

If you are holding a paper clip or a screw driver, when the MRI switch is flipped on, the paper clip or screw driver could fly out of your hand and through the air, towards the magnet, where the patient is usually laying down.  That paper clip or screwdriver then could become a flying missile, heading right for the poor sucker who just wants to find out what is going on inside his or her body.  That is one way to really screw up an MRI.

Basically, an MRI machine uses the huge magnet to create electromagnetic waves that create photons that are then turned into images, which are then read by radiologists.

Here is what Wikipedia says about the process:   “In an MRI machine a radio frequency transmitter is briefly turned on, producing an electromagnetic field. The photons of this field have just the right energy, known as the resonance frequency, to flip the spin of the aligned protons. As the intensity and duration of the field increases, more aligned spins are affected. After the field is turned off, the protons decay to the original spin-down state and the difference in energy between the two states is released as a photon. It is these photons that produce the electromagnetic signal that the scanner detects. The frequency at which the protons resonate depends on the strength of the magnetic field. As a result of conservation of energy, this also dictates the frequency of the released photons. The photons released when the field is removed have energy — and therefore a frequency — due to the amount of energy the protons absorbed while the field was active.  It is this relationship between field-strength and frequency that allows the use of nuclear magnetic resonance for imaging. Additional magnetic fields are applied during the scan in order to make the magnetic field strength depend on the position within the patient, providing a straightforward method to control where the protons are excited by the radio photons.”

Malcolm Gladwell, the famous author and thinker, has noted the difference between a puzzle and a mystery.  A puzzle can be solved once you get all of the pieces together.  A mystery is sometimes insolvable even if all of the information (or too much information) is staring you in the face.

The MRI can help doctors solve the puzzle of the human body by giving them more pieces to look at.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that it will solve the mystery of life, but the more information available to radiologists, the better.

Unless you are carrying a paper clip in with you, an MRI exam is safe.  There is no radiation that comes from it, and unless you have a pacemaker, the MRI has no known long-lasting impact on your health, other than giving doctors a better glimpse into what is going on within your body.

The other thing that can screw up an MRI is the President’s new health care law.

Under Obamacare, the MRI is going to face some real challenges.  Socialist health care avoids the use of MRIs, because, well, they are pretty expensive.  They are pretty expensive to make because the technology is still evolving and it is hard to get big magnets into small places.  They are pretty expensive to administer because it takes real expertise to run the machines and to examine the results.

Radiologists are the ones who do the analyzing, and they are among the most sued of doctors.  Because the natural assumption that a radiologist has God-like capabilities, when one misses a diagnosis (which happens on occasion), malpractice lawyers pounce.  Malpractice insurance is a significant cost component to the eventual MRI bill.

President Obama’s health care plan does several things to make MRIs less available to the average citizen.   It puts a new tax on Medical devices, which includes MRI machines.  The new tax will put a perverse incentive for physicians to move their imaging equipment from their offices to hospitals so they won’t have to pay the tax.

The President’s plan also gives huge incentives to doctors to become general practitioners, which is all fine and dandy, but that means that fewer doctors will become radiologists.   A radiologist shortage will have inflationary impact on MRI usage and could make it harder for people to get one scheduled.  In Canada, waiting months to get an MRI is the rule, not the exception.

Because the President’s law did nothing to limit wasteful litigation against these radiologists, it is still open season on them.   That gives these doctors even more of an incentive to do something else with their lives, like become investment bankers.

The irony is that America leads the world when it comes to MRI manufacturing.  They are manufactured in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (among other places) by General Electric.   GE has the largest share of a competitive marketplace.

The next generation MRI, should we ever get there, would unlock even more of the mysteries of the human body.  It is an investment in technology that could help find the cure for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and help doctors detect earlier cancers and heart disease.

But those kinds of advances don’t happen in a socialist health care system that is stripped of all profit incentives.   Obamacare is bad for the MRI, which is bad for the overall health of the American people.

Subscribe to the Feehery Theory Newsletter, exclusively on Substack.
Learn More