Building a Box Within a Box: MRI Room Design and Construction

There are many challenging projects when performing design and construction work for the healthcare industry. Talking to some of our clients, we discovered that one of the big pain points they experience during this process is finding a team who can provide high-quality, efficient design and construction of MRI rooms. These specialized spaces require knowledge of and experience with a unique set of requirements. In this article, we highlight three key elements to be aware of when working on a new MRI room: Shielding, Logistics, and Quality Control.


Shielding

Appropriate shielding is fundamental to designing and constructing an MRI room. This is where the “box within a box” comes in. A room is constructed with all the structural, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing elements you would typically expect. Then, shielding panels are constructed within the framework of that room, creating a smaller room (known as a Faraday cage) where the MRI machine will be placed. Steel is commonly used for shielding material, but copper is also an acceptable and effective option.


Shielding prevents radiofrequency waves from escaping the MRI room and affecting patients and medical personnel in adjacent areas. Surrounding areas may include the MRI control room, patient prep areas, waiting rooms, and other imaging suites. To ensure no damaging waves exit the space, specialty doors and windows with integral shielding must be considered during the original design to provide a fully sealed environment. Additionally, the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems entering the inner room must be shielded using special devices such as EM filters and waveguides that transition the conduits to a non-magnetic material.


Logistics

Logistics are the heart of any project. Coordination, communication, and planning can make or break even the simplest job, much less something as complex as a new MRI room. Creating a proper timeline that considers issues such as design time, site/location prep, engaging specialty contractors, and equipment lead times will set you up for success. For instance, equipment lead times for an MRI machine can be as long as 9-12 months!


One unique logistics effort involved in MRI room construction is planning and coordinating how to actually get the equipment into the room. An MRI machine is too large and heavy to move down a hallway and through a normal door. Instead, it typically must be brought in through an opening in the wall or ceiling. To accomplish this, the room needs to be designed in a location that allows for crane access. Then, after the walls and shielding have been constructed, panels must be removed to allow entry for the equipment and then be replaced after installation is complete. MRI room shielding panels are fabricated for easy removal specifically to accommodate this inevitable activity.


Another logistic feature specific to this type of work is the requirement for 100% electrical uptime and refrigerant system for the magnet. If the MRI machine is scheduled to arrive on a certain date, the construction team must have power connected in the room and the refrigerant system in place. Even if the rest of the facility or project is still ongoing, systems need to be ready for use in the MRI room. The reason for this is because if MRI machines are not connected and supported by these systems, the magnet will be damaged and the machine will be ruined. It’s a too expensive and vital piece of equipment to lose because of scheduling issues. It is also important to have the telecommunications systems online so the machine can be monitored remotely.


Quality Control

Quality control is of particular importance to the design and construction of an MRI room. This is a highly specialized and technical space that is not easily reworked or modified. For example, the room’s shielding must be tested twice during construction. The Qualifications Test is performed before the machine is installed in the room and the Acceptance Test is done when the shielding has been resealed after the machine is in place. These tests make sure the shielding is working effectively to protect patients and staff.


Another essential quality control measure is thorough inspection of the wall assemblies and utility rough-ins. These inspections must be comprehensive the first time to prevent complications later in the project. For example, if utilities are not shielded properly during installation, the MRI machine will potentially pull them through the wall when it is activated.


Lastly, MRI machines often require additional structural support due to their weight. The design should take into account the size and weight of the equipment before construction begins. This may involve coordination with the equipment vendor and/or additional reviews to ensure the structure will be adequate.


MRI rooms are a critical part of any healthcare system’s imaging department. Being aware of shielding requirements, logistics concerns, and enhanced quality control will make the project simpler and more successful for the entire team.

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