Why sustainability matters for healthcare today – and patients in the future
Estimated reading time: 6-8 minutes
The connection between helium, diagnostic imaging and World Environment Day.
We hear it all the time: the earth’s precious resources are limited. Natural gas, coal, crude oil – they will one day run out. It’s a fact we’re all aware of. But how – and most importantly when – will we respond? Burying our heads in the sand is not an answer. To promote a sustainable future, we need to take action.
Helium is one of our planet’s most naturally abundant gases, but just like fossil fuels, its supply is limited. Moreover, only a handful of countries (notably the USA and Qatar) actually capture and store helium before it escapes back into the atmosphere. This means it is not only finite but already a scarce commodity today.
The era where helium supply could be replenished by drawing on strategic US reserves is almost over, and replacing it is not straightforward. New (medium-term) sources are largely created as a by-product of planned oil and gas mega projects in Qatar, Algeria or Russia. But these are subject to delays and therefore not reliable.1
What does this mean for healthcare?
One of the largest uses for helium gas today is in science and healthcare. Within these fields, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) accounts for a significant proportion. In fact, worldwide, MRI scanners alone are responsible for 20% of helium consumption. In the USA, the figure is as high as 31%.2
As a result, the technology is highly susceptible to fluctuations in supply and directly affected by the consequences of helium’s eventual dissipation. The impacts are already clear: between 2011 and 2013, prices for the valuable gas quadrupled, which, in some cases, even resulted in scientific instrument shutdowns.3
Supporting sustainability in diagnostic imaging
World Environment Day – on June 5 – is the UN’s annual day for encouraging global awareness and action to protect our environment. At Philips, we recognize our responsibility in preserving natural resources, finding alternatives and limiting the risks of helium scarcity for healthcare facilities around the world. From our discussions with customers and vast experience in the field, we are only too aware of the potential operational and financial effects – not to mention the implications for patients who may miss out on vital imaging procedures.
Today’s MRI scanners feature magnets that are not fully sealed, allowing helium to escape. This not only means that hospitals need to replenish their supply of the gas, but it also creates logistical installation challenges. For example, to comply with helium-safety protocols, long pipes must be fitted that will vent the gas outside the building and away from patients and staff in the event of a magnet quench. Fulfilling this requirement frequently entails costly floor adaptations and extensive planning.
For years, it has been the dream of physicists, radiology managers and others working in MRI to find a way to become less reliant on helium. For the C-suite, sustainability is an integral part of managing a healthcare organization’s productivity and total cost of ownership. It’s not just about looking for short-term gains; it’s about finding long-term solutions to drive efficiency and lower cost while providing outstanding care to patients. With MRI scanners being a leading modality for healthcare organizations, imaging plays a central role in delivering seamless care that meets the needs of the Quadruple Aim.
Helping your radiology department transition to more productive and sustainable helium-free operations
Based on decades of innovation and insight, Philips has developed magnet technology designed to reduce lengthy and costly disruptions in MR practice, and help healthcare facilities transition to more productive and sustainable helium-free operations. This revolutionary BlueSeal magnet operates with only seven liters of liquid helium and is fully sealed – freeing up MR operations from potential helium complications and helping to reduce siting costs.
What’s more, the magnet is around 900 kg lighter than its predecessor4 and does not need a vent pipe, potentially resulting in easier siting and lowering construction costs.
Continuing the conversation
We’re excited to play a part in what could signify a new era in MRI magnet technology. And we’re thrilled to be driving innovations and solutions that bring the imaging industry one step closer to that goal. On the eve of #WorldEnvironmentDay, any advancement that can help reduce humankind’s reliance on limited natural resources and drive a sustainable future is definitely worth celebrating.
At the upcoming ISMRM in Paris on June 18, we’ll be continuing the all-important discussion on balancing sustainability with efficient, effective MRI operations. We’d love you to join the conversation. I am looking forward to meeting with you there to explore these topics further.
Can’t wait to transform your radiology department to helium-free operations? Read more about our BlueSeal magnet technology here.
1 Edison report, December 2017.
2 JR Campbell & Associates; USGS.
3 Chemical & Engineering News, Volume 95 Issue 26 | p. 11, June 2017.
4 Compared to Philips Ingenia ZBO magnet of same field strength.
About Innovation Matters
Innovation Matters delivers news, opinions and features about healthcare, and is focused on the professionals who work within the industry, as well as Philips as a cutting-edge health technology organization. From interviews with industry giants to how-to guides and features powered by Philips data, our goal is to deliver interesting, educational and entertaining content to empower and inspire all those who work in healthcare or related industries.
As Global Business Leader for MRI at Philips, Arjen Radder is responsible for driving market growth and advancing Philips’ position as a leader of MRI technology and customer-focused diagnostic imaging solutions. Previously, he worked in a variety of general management roles in the healthcare industry in the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. His most recent role was as CEO of Royal Philips in the Middle East and Turkey region.