DOVER -- The rapid growth of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to diagnose illness and injury has prompted Union Hospital to expand hours of its hospital-based high field facility. By adding evening and weekend hours for MRI examination, the hospital is able to scan more patients with less waiting time and offer a wider range of appointment times.

Carey Gardner, director of community relations, said MRI service hours will be extended to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"Patients will have more options to schedule their MRI scan around their own busy schedules," Gardner said. "The hospital staff understands that it can be difficult for people who are working or have family responsibilities so the expanded hours should address more of those concerns."

Since MRI service began at Union Hospital, the use of this advanced imaging technology has grown from a handful of patients each week to nearly 4,000 scans last year. This growth is spurred by the ability of the hospital's Seimens 1.5 Tesla MRI technology to produce exceptionally high quality images with shorter scanning times and improved patient comfort.

"Since our new machine was installed, the vast majority of our patients have found it to be accommodating of various sizes of people and those with anxiety about the scanning process," Gardner said. "The first thing patients notice about this MRI machine is the comfort and ease of use. The feeling is more like having a CT scan due to the wide bore opening and the very short tunnel, reducing any sense of claustrophobia."

Gardner said the great success of the hospital-based MRI system, along with the addition of evening and weekend hours for patient service, will result in the closing of the Open MRI machine located at the Oxford medical building in Dover.

"We've found the vast majority of patients can easily utilize the hospital's MRI because of its advanced design and capability. And with the expanded service hours, the continued operation of a less advanced low-volume Open MRI machine could not be justified," Gardner said. The Open machine will be closed after Oct. 15 and then be uninstalled.

MRI is capable of making highly detailed images of organs and structures inside the body. It produces these images by using a strong magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy.

MRI often provides doctors with information about an injury or illness that cannot be obtained from X-ray tests, Gardner added.