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Are zero boil off MRI Scanners worth the heavy price tag?

Let’s dispel a common misconception about the zero boil off MRI Scanner. The refills of liquid helium are still required but not as much as the earlier models. The current cooling technology has improved on MRI units since the 1980’s and 1990’s which prevents significant boil off of liquid helium. 

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of zero boil off MRI units and their suitability to certain medical practices?

First, what is a zero boil off MRI scanner?

Early generations of superconducting MRI scanners used super cooled liquids called cryogens to create strong magnetic fields. These liquid cryogens (helium and nitrogen) would evaporate or “boil off” in the atmosphere and need periodic refills depending on use.

Liquid helium is a scarce resource and expensive to replace, so nitrogen is used with helium to reduce the amount of helium needed. However, nitrogen would boil off quicker and need more refills making liquid cryogens still expensive to replace.

Since the 2000’s MRI technology has developed “zero boil off” MRI units which reduces the consumption rate of liquid helium.

As the liquid helium boils off, the gas goes into a condenser which converts gaseous helium back to liquid. The liquid helium is circulated back into the MRI unit and reduces the need for additional liquid helium. To be clear, the expensive refrigeration units or “cool heads”, only minimize the boil off rate which reduces the refilling expense. They don’t eliminate helium consumption. 

However, this feature increases the cost of the “zero boil off” MRI unit to over $200,000.00 more than a standard unit.

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  • Types of MRI
  • Which MRI is Right for My Practice?
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  • MRI Maintenance & De-Installation
  • Costs and Reimbursements

How much does it cost to run a standard MRI unit vs. zero boil off MRI unit?

To determine if a zero boil off MRI scanner is financially feasible, let’s start with a standard unit with a capacity of 1800L of liquid helium.

The system may consume approximately 864 liters per year which adds up to about $10,368.00/year.  Helium price fluctuates depending on availability and the consumption can vary from institution to institution depending on the number of exams and types of studies done.

On a zero boil off unit the consumption is considerably less and needs refilling once every 3 to 4 years.

So, should you consider buying the zero boil off unit vs. a standard MRI unit? It depends on working budgets and patient volume in the medical practice.

Zero boil off units are more expensive to purchase but save money on helium refills, and considering the scarcity and expense of helium, the zero boil off units may prove to be cost effective in the long run. A standard MRI unit is cheaper but more expensive to maintain due to the refills of liquid helium.

For a facility, if the imaging department can offset the purchase price with the amount of money saved from periodic refills, the purchase of a zero boil off scanner might be beneficial. Plus, a high volume of exams could easily make up for the cost of the unit.

On the other hand, a facility may benefit from a standard MRI unit because the initial cost is lower and with a high volume of exams, the cost of maintaining and refilling of liquid helium can be easily covered.

Amber Diagnostics can help you on your purchase, we carry a wide range of refurbished and used MRI Scanners, standard and zero boil off units to choose from. Get in contact with us today and let our expert representatives help you get the right unit for your facility.


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