Three Cheers for the 3T! Powerful, New MRI Will Provide More Patient Access, Superior Imaging

MRI tech getting patient ready for MRI sccan
MRI technologist Mark Hanson preps a patient for a scan inside South Shore Hospital's new 3T MRI machine.

It’s been a year of exciting advancements for South Shore Health’s diagnostic imaging department.  

During the past 10 months, the health system has upgraded existing imaging equipment with updated software and has added new, state-of-the-art Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners – including the powerful, new 3 Tesla (3T) MRI machine now up and running at South Shore Hospital.

With a magnet twice as strong as those in the health system’s four 1.5T scanners, the new 3T MRI will provide highly detailed imaging, increase efficiency and improve the patient experience.  

To learn more about the new scanner, we asked MRI Supervisor Mari Engelhardt and Director of Diagnostic Imaging Maureen Shorrock, about this top-of-the-line technology and what it means for our providers, patients and the community.

First off, what is an MRI and what is it used for?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic imaging technique that uses a magnetic field and computer-generated radio waves to create detailed images of the body’s internally organs, tissues, and skeletal system.

While having an MRI scan, the magnetic field temporarily realigns water molecules in the body and the radio waves cause the aligned atoms to produce faint signals used to create cross sectional images. MRI scanners can also produce 3D images.

MRI scans are an effective, non-invasive method for doctors to examine patients internally and the dynamic imaging produced can be used to diagnose medical problems throughout the body.

MRI of the brain is used to help doctors detect stroke, aneurysms, tumors, and traumatic injury. It is also used to check for tumors in internal organs and to evaluate bone and joint problems, torn ligaments from traumatic or repetitive injuries, disk abnormalities in the spine and tumors of the bones or soft tissue. 

Along with mammography, MRI is often used to detect breast cancer in women at high risk for the disease and those who have dense breast tissue.

South Shore Hospital has greatly expanded its imaging department, adding several pieces of state-of-the-art equipment, including a 3T MRI. How did we acquire this powerful new scanner?

The health system has made significant investments in the past year to upgrade and replace our CT and MRI platforms.  Understanding that these diagnostic capabilities are instrumental to effective patient flow as well as expanding our outpatient capacity, the organization committed significant capital funds to support these initiatives. 

In addition, last year’s generous $5 million gift to South Shore Health by Digger and Susan Donahue of Norwell, funded much of the construction of the new MRI suite and acquisition of the new magnets. 

MRI technologist Mark Hanson reviews the scans of a patient in the hospital's new 3T MRI machine.
MRI technologist Mark Hanson reviews the scans of a patient in the hospital's new 3T MRI machine.

What is the difference between a 3T MRI and the existing 1.5T scanners and what does that mean for our patients and our providers?

The “T” stands for Tesla -- which is the unit of measurement used to quantify the strength of a magnetic field in an MRI machine. The 3T magnet is twice as strong as the magnet in a 1.5T scanner.

This allows for greater signal-to-noise ratio and detail, which translates to producing high quality imaging that is particularly beneficial for conditions involving the brain, spine and musculoskeletal system.

The higher resolution and clarity from a 3T MRI can help identify smaller anatomical structures and lesions that cannot be detected with less powerful machines, and more sophisticated imaging procedures can help providers make more accurate diagnoses.

Will scanning be faster in the 3T MRI?

The 3T MRI is generally used for high quality, detailed imaging in brain exams and scans of small joints. Scanning times are not much faster than those in the 1.5T MRI because we are using the stronger magnet power for higher image quality rather than speed.

That being said, both of South Shore Hospital’s new MRI scanners have superior software technology and therefore have shorter scan times than our previous equipment.

What other advancements in the new MRI will improve patient comfort and experience?

Our new MRI scanners have a wider, 70-centimeter bore, (the older machines were 62 centimeters wide), giving patients more space, a less-confining or claustrophobic experience and resulting in fewer interrupted scans.

We also have comfort lighting for ambiance and can offer patients the opportunity to listen to music during most exams – extremities, body and most spine scans – to help pass the time in the MRI machine.   

How will this scanner improve efficiency for imaging department staff?

Having two MRI machines in the imaging department allows us the flexibility to accommodate more outpatient scanning, without impacting the needs of our in-house patient community.

It also allows two MRI teams to work side by side. MRI technologists are always trouble shooting and enjoy collaborating with each other.

For what specific types of diagnostic imaging will the new 3T to be a particularly helpful tool?

The 3T MRI will be a standout for certain orthopedic imaging – specifically for hands and fingers. It allows visualization of tiny details of the tendons and joints and superior musculoskeletal images.

It also has the capability for dynamic prostate imaging. With its more powerful magnet, the 3T scanner is superior for visualizing the prostate gland and also for use in rectal exams.

More sophisticated neurological imaging will also be possible with the 3T MRI, which can show greater detail of the nerves, blood vessels and possible plaques in the brain.


Maureen Shorrock, RT, (R) (M) is Executive Director of Diagnostic Imaging.  Mari Engelhardt, RT, (R), MR is MRI Supervisor. Learn more about diagnostic imaging at South Shore Health.