IDF leases 1st MRI machine exclusively for soldiers’ examinations


Mobile model to be stationed at Tzrifin base is expected to cut the waiting time for MRI scans from months to days.
• 4 additional new machines en route to public hospitals in Holon, Hadera, Tiberias & Safed
• Number of MRIs in Israel still below OECD average.

By Meytal Yassour Bat-Or


Almost everyone who has served in the army knows the story: A soldier suffering from pain tries to make an appointment to diagnose what is causing it. By the time he can see a doctor, the problem is long gone and might even have been replaced by new ones. Now, for the first time, an MRI machine has been requisitioned for the exclusive use of IDF soldiers.

A soldier undergoes an MRI scan in the new machine – Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

The soldiers-only MRI is one of five recently acquired in Israel. Four will go to public hospitals: Hillel Yaffe in Hadera, Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed, Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, and Baruch Padeh Medical Center-Poriya in Tiberias. Most of the cost of the new machines was covered by donations to the hospitals. The IDF’s MRI — a portable model purchased by the Mor Institute and leased by the army — will be set up at the Tzrifin base near Rishon Lezion.

Currently, patients can wait weeks at a time for non-urgent MRI scans. Since hospitals operate the scanners around the clock, people sometimes receive appointments in the middle of the night. Before the latest acquisition, Israel had 18 MRI machines in operation, four of which were portable ones were shared by hospitals all over the country.

“This is the first time an MRI machine has been earmarked to be used on soldiers only,” explains head of the Imaging Department in the IDF Medical Corps, Lt. Col. Michel Somekh.

“We’ve noticed gaps in the availability of these tests in the past two years, especially for IDF soldiers. We found ourselves sending soldiers for MRI scans at three or four o’clock in the morning, after waiting months.”

According to Somekh, MRI scans are often necessary to clear soldiers to return to demanding courses, complete the induction process, and help identify stress fractures and neurological disorders.

“Stress fractures are very typical in soldiers at different stages of their service,” Somekh explains. “The system can identify them as well as damage to the joints, spine, shoulders, and knees. It also helps diagnose the causes of headaches, fainting, and migraines.”

Somekh estimates that the cost to the defense establishment of these tests is growing by some 30 percent, and that the new machine will let the army provide “better, more available treatment, with waits of days [rather than months.]”

No more excuses

But this isn’t just good news for the army. The hospitals that have received the other new machines welcome the decision, calling it a great boon for the patients.

“An MRI system will provide a significant upgrade to the diagnostic and treatment capabilities, including the requisite tests, and of course will help improve the availability of the service to the population the medical center serves,” says Professor Meir Oren, director general of the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center.

“There is no doubt that the service will contribute to the quality of life of many patients in the area, who thus far have had to use mobile MRI services that weren’t available enough, often far from their homes.”

Wolfson Medical Center director Dr. Yitzhak Berlovich echoed his colleague’s sentiments, noting that additional machines would make it possible to run MRI scans to discover breast cancer in women who carry the genetic mutation BRCA 1/2, which increases their chance of getting sick.

“Up until now, it’s been difficult to order these tests because there weren’t enough machines,” he explained. “Now there are no more excuses.”

Equipment efforts

In spite of everything, the data about the number of MRI machines in Israel is not encouraging. Before the five new machines were purchased, Israel had only three machines in use per million residents. The OECD average is 14 machines per the same number of people. The U.S. has 11 times the number of MRI machines in use that Israel does.

Current guidelines permit making an MRI system available for every 371,000 residents of Israel, but the high cost of the machines and a desire to limit the number of MRI scans performed.

The Health Ministry says that “the number of machines in use in Israel should be increased. Health Minister Yael German and ministry Director-General Professor Arnon Afek are in talks with the Finance Ministry to find a way of doing that.”

What do the patients waiting for MRI scans say?

“Even though in the past few years the number of MRI machines in Israel has grown, we unfortunately encounter cases where the health funds refuse to authorize an MRI scan, even when a doctor has ordered it,” says Shmulik Ben-Yaakov, chairman of the Society for Patients’ Rights in Israel.

According to Ben-Yaakov, “If there is a justified medical need and no other test, [patients] can appeal to the Public Complaints Commission or approach advocacy groups, including the Society for Patients’ Rights.”


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