Helium is a gas that has many functions; filling balloons, manufacturing LCD TVs, fueling rockets, and cooling MRI scanners. This last item, probably the most important use of helium, constitutes about 20% of the world’s usage. Unfortunately, this very handy gas is also a finite resource like fossil fuels. In fact, some experts are predicting that the world may be completely depleted of helium within the next 30 years. That’s right! Your grandchildren may never know the joy of singing Happy Birthday in the squeaky balloon voice!
The Current MRI Helium Shortage
Helium is perfect for MRI use because of its high thermal conductivity. The gas enables the creation of the strong magnetic fields that make MRI images so clean and crisp. This product, which is so critical to the MRI field is currently experiencing a shortage due to a tightening global market and the production problems that frequently arise when supplying a limited resource to a high-demand market.
The shortage has the potential to result in a number of serious problems for imaging sites:
First and foremost, the shortage means slower response times to magnet quench emergencies. If a patient is in dire need of a scan, any delay can be a serious one.
In addition, sites can expect to see and, moreover, already have seen price increases for the product. In the last six months alone, the costs for helium have risen between 15% and 30% depending on regional demand. These prices will continue to increase as demand increases. Ironically, the “get it while it’s hot” mentality will prevail and end up costing everyone more.
Sites hoping to maintain their regular schedule of helium fills will be disappointed as wait times increase. They’ll likely find a whole lot more to be disappointed about as their cryogen vendors cap the number of liters that can be dispensed in a single visit. This will increase the need for careful system monitoring and lead to a need for scheduling more frequent helium fills.
How Can I Beat the Helium Shortage?
That’s a great question with an easy answer: The best bet to beat the helium shortage blues is to put your MRI under a full service contract.
Most helium providers do not offer one-time fills for customers that do not have signed cryogen contracts with them so you’ll need one to move forward anyway, but they can be a great value. For instance; having your MRI under a Block Imaging full service contract entitles you to consistent helium monitoring and fills scheduled accordingly by your account’s Service Coordinator. Besides having your helium levels monitored, Block Imaging Parts & Service supports your MRI’s cold head, ensuring that it’s performing at peak capacity to reduce helium boil-off.
With no end to the helium shortage in sight, there are some scary diagnostic and financial implications in the air. Putting your MRI scanner under a service contract can help minimize the effects of those implications and prolong the life of the world’s remaining helium.
Our other suggestion to stretch the supply: ban the world’s second-highest helium consumers… clowns.