Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A Unique Medium of Information

Usman Khan

Mr. Josephson

Comparative Studies 2367

Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A Unique Medium of Information

            Magnetic resonance imaging, known as MRI, is an essential medium used throughout health care that engages the senses and allows information to be transferred. Commonly used in hospitals to help identify a problem to better treat a patient, and to allow a better medium of information for physicians and even allowing the patient to understand what is going on. The MRI has been useful in and of itself progressing the advancement of medicine, and is a crucial machine used presently. By helping to view tissue at a unique microscopic level to better find a diagnosis, and leading to better treatment and prevention of a disease, it has allowed medicine advance far better than most medical machines.The MRI is a great medium to analyze due to it existing as a tangible material which engaging various senses and allows for unprecedented possibilities in the field of medicine.

As an essential medium used in medicine the MRI exists as a material object to encompass its functions. To understand the function and even the power of an MRI, it is necessary to understand how it works. A basic understanding would be that “It is a procedure used in hospitals to scan patients and determine the severity of certain injuries” (Kalapurayil). An MRI produces detailed scans of tissue in the body used to identify the severity of an injury and it does this through laying inside of an MRI on a push in table. The structure of the MRI is simple and its functions encompass its structure. Everything was built for a specific reason in allowing the MRI to work, with no excess. Primary components of the MRI consists of a large external magnet, coils, radio frequency equipment, and a computer used to generate a 3-D image. It has a long tube inside the machine with a large magnet in the middle of the machine. Then there is a comfortable table in the external portion of the MRI where a patient lies down The table gets pushed closer into the center of the MRI to begin the process that leads to the main function of the MRI. There are many wires in the machine itself, which are covered, and they are used to pass electrical currents generating a strong magnetic field. Then there is something known as a coil, which is placed on a body part to send and receive radio frequency waves. These waves can go through our skin and this allows the protons in our body to align themselves and the protons then absorb the RF waves. These protons tend to spin quickly because of the energy they received, thus emitting or releasing the energy waves to the coil and generating a 3-D image of the specific body part being scanned. It is a fairly simple design if one can understand engineering and physics, but to those not knowledgeable on the subject it can seem confusing, yet still can be comprehended with a basic understanding of science.

Besides the tangible materiality of the medium it also engages our senses in a variety of ways. When a person is being scanned in the MRI there are many continuous loud thumping noises. These noises are produced by magnets turning on and off continuously, and also by the noise of camera taking the pictures. Just as a camera makes a noise when taking a picture, the MRI makes an even louder noise when taking such a detailed image of your tissues. This noise can indubitably cause more anxiety and nervousness, so the MRI surely engages our auditory senses. Also when someone is needed to use an MRI for any sort of procedure, that said person is surely in a state of anxiety even before being in the MRI. Simply due to the fact of being aware that this is a unique procedure not meant for an everyday sort of check-up makes a person more nervous and scared, seeing as a typical visit to the hospital usually does not require someone to be laid down in a huge metal machine. Thus, the MRI engages the senses mentally as well, because it can be nerve wrecking for a person to even think about being in MRI for maybe thirty minutes to maybe even two hours depending on the severity of the case. Leading to the MRI being a medium not just for treating conditions, but also has a characteristic trait of engaging a variety of senses. A solution to the loud noises is using headphones allowing people to have the option to listen to music and to avoid this nerve wrecking noise. Although for many people having to know they will be in the magnetic resonance machine is nerve wrecking, it is still completely safe and people should not be too anxious or worried.

Being such a crucial medium of information the MRI needs to make things possible and these possibilities are crucial in helping physicians, treating patients with safety, and creating a better understanding for the patient when confused. The MRI helps make physicians life easier and allows them to see things that were likely impossible to see just a few decades ago. The image produced through the MRI allows physicians to see body organs and tissues in fine detail, and allowing the detection of abnormalities which otherwise could not be detected to help better treat patients. Opposed to a CT-Scan, which is just an upgraded x-Ray, a CT-Scan does not produce such fine detail of tissues, and X-Rays are more commonly used for bones so it is clear the MRI is the best option to visually see extreme detail of organs. Also in contrast to a CT-Scan, the MRI does not emit ionizing radiation. Avoiding radiation makes possible a safer procedure to better treat patients. A person who is going to have to use MRI is already a bit nervous as is, and if there were risk of radiation, you can imagine how frightening MRI would be. Fortunately, the MRI is safe and having no radiation makes possible of better treating the patient without the use of risk, and by not jeopardizing their future health and well-being due to radiation.

The MRI also makes possible a better patient understanding, as well as better physician-patient interaction. For a patient it is better to see a visual image rather than being bombarded with medical terminology that a patient might not understand. I believe Marshal McLuhan put it best when he stated, “In general we feel more secure when things are visible, when we can ‘see for ourselves.’”(McLuhan 117). This corresponds to the patient feeling more safe and secure seeing an image to better understand the situation. Especially in a hospital setting where most people are not educated enough to have the vast array of knowledge a doctor has, it then becomes pivotal to help lessen the confusion of a patient. MRI truly allows that lessening of confusion due to a visual image in front of the patient. For example, when learning a difficult concept it is quite often better to see a visual demonstration of the concept than just reading throughout a textbook. As McLuhan said, it is better when things are visible because it allows people too see with their own eyes to try to understand what is going on. A visual image or even any sort of visual mediums like videos, allow for better understanding than listening or reading. Also having the visual image, allows the doctor to better explain himself to the patient because now the patient has a much better understanding. This also allows the patient to feel more comfortable interacting with the doctor because they are both on the same page by looking at the image. Although the doctor will still need to explain some parts of the image, the patient will sill understand through the doctors information and supplementing that with the visual image in front of the patient. MRI indubitably makes possible of better patient understanding and a better physician-patient interaction through the generated 3-D image a doctor shares with the patient.

MRI is a great advancement in modern medicine due to finding problems otherwise not visible with the naked eye, however there are still economic and social issues revolving around MRI. A major economic problem would be affording MRI, which is greatly impacted by healthcare costs. Ezra Klein wrote an article entitled, “Why an MRI Costs $1080 in America and $280 in France”. In the article she mentions it largely has to do with the average a person spends on healthcare every year. “Americans spent $7,960 per person on healthcare”, and “The French, $3,978″(Klein). These are significant figures which impact the cost of MRI. Insurance companies charge more for a person living in the U.S. solely because the insurance companies pay so much more compared to insurance companies in France. Also these numbers are just averages, sometimes the cost of an MRI can be more than $4,000 depending on what body parts need to be scanned. These are significant numbers which impact the economics of MRI, thus influences society because it makes it difficult for the poor/middle-class to afford MRI. Societal implications would be the social inequality. The rich will have better access to MRI compared to someone who is poor and without any insurance. Even if you have insurance, some insurance companies might not pay for the full cost of MRI creating more issues. It is a consistent imbalance, because we have the harsh economics greatly influencing society which sheds a visible light on the social inequality involving MRI. I believe this is a huge problem because it simply is not fair for people to lose their lives simply on the cost of MRI. Also when new advancements are made in medicine it will even lead to more social inequality because the cost will always be so expensive. The MRI is a great advancement in medicine, however it is still influenced by economics which indubitably leads some people to lose their lives because of the expensive costs of a medical instrument that ironically was meant to help save lives.

MRI is an imperative machine used in the advancement of medicine, and although not seen as a conventional medium akin to a book or website, it still is a medium nonetheless. By allowing a transfer of information from the body to be analyzed, engaging the senses, creating new possibilities, it is indubitably a unique medium of information. MRI is simply unique medium to analyze due to fact it is a medium only used in the hospital. By being unique to the hospital it has been upgraded solely to treat patients in whatever way it can. Either through allowing fine-tuned images of organs, not emitting radiation, a better understanding for patients, and even a better physician-patient interaction, the MRI has become a pivotal medium of information used in hospitals. MRI has helped so many people in the world through its’ use of function, that without MRI it would surely be a loss to the world, and indubitably contravening to the advancement of new mediums in advancing medicine due to MRI being a stepping stone for what is to come.

 Work Cited

Kalapurayil, Mattew. “What Is MRI? How Does MRI Work?” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <;

McLuhan, Marshall, Quentin Fiore, and Jerome Agel. The Medium Is the Massage. New York: Bantam, 1967. Print.

“MRI:MedilinePlus. Medical Encyclopedia.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2015 <>

Klein, Ezra. “Why an MRI Costs $1,080 in America and $280 in France.” Why an MRI Costs $1,080 in America and $280 in France. The Washington Post, 6 Mar. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.                                      <;.

Scanning the Horizon

Medical practices have evolved rapidly over the past century, and with each development, imagining the next medical technology becomes a challenge. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is one of those technologies, elevating itself as a premier tool for research and clinical care. But this complicated machine brings to the table more than just cool images of the anatomy and physiology of the human body–it allows physicians and patients to interact at a whole other level. But even that is not the entire story. Is MRI, as it is utilized in this immediate era, being held back from its ultimate potential? This life-saving technology could possibly be preventing humans from moving forward in preventative medicine. One thing is certain: MRI will be the next step in the future of medicine, and whether or not it is the masses that control this technology rather than the healthcare system, remains to be seen.

A little background on how an MRI machine works would be helpful in understanding the technology as it pertains to its form of media. An MRI can be thought of as an enormous magnet. The magnets within the machine create a magnetic field around the area of the body that is to be scanned. The majority of the human body is made up of water, and in each water molecule are two hydrogen atoms. So when the magnets create the magnetic field, this causes the hydrogen atoms to emit a radio frequency signal. The type of tissue in which the water molecule resides determines the frequency and length of the signal emitted by the hydrogen atoms. A scanner in the MRI to create a three-dimensional image then records this signal (Gould).

The ability to produce a detailed three-dimensional image of any part of the human body is valuable for both researchers and health-care providers. For neuroscientists doing research, a common practice is to couple MRI with radioactive tagging and record the brain’s reaction to different activities. In doing this, researchers are able to see what parts of the brain “light up” when performing different activities, like watching a scary movie or listening to a romantic novel.

But what truly displays the artifact politics of MRI is its use in a clinical setting. Langdon Winner talks about technologies having politics, either directly or indirectly, in his essay, Do Artifacts have Politics? The idea that technology can change how humans interact and display a political system can be applied to MRI.

The physician-patient interaction is a critical cog in the health-care experience, second only to the actual treatment of whatever is ailing a patient. It is important that a patient feels understood and also understands what is causing a condition that produces discomfort. When a doctor asks a plethora of standardized questions designed for efficiency and proceeds to run multiple tests, a patient can feel out of the loop. The lack of communication between a physician and patient can cause a rift that leads to misunderstanding. The patient does not feel important, but rather, like another case number in a file.

MRI can take away some of the magic, mystique, or general “coldness” that can be felt during a trip to see a health-care professional. Because MRI is non-intrusive, it is safer and less threatening than most exploratory surgeries or blood tests, while still capable of gaining more insight than those conventional methods. Not only that, but because MRI produces such high-resolution images, it is a simple task for a physician to include a patient in reviewing an MRI. That alone is enough to create a dialogue and increase patient-physician communication, enhancing patient understanding. By including a patient in the health-care process, the patient-physician relationship is able to grow and become a positive interaction that may allow a more advanced healing process.

Another feature of MRI that provides a stepping-stone forward in health-care relationships is the ability to supply an answer. Most patients who receive an MRI scan have been struggling with an unresolved condition that is unknown despite other testing methods. When a patient is shown, slice-by-slice, what has been causing a chronic pain or discomfort, a physician is able to provide comfort in providing an answer. A patient is finally able to see for himself what is going on inside the body, producing a constructive relationship of trust with the health-care provider.

On the flip side, however, the line between constructive and destructive is a fine one. These scans can just as easily create a destructive relationship between a physician and patient through the over-reliance on medical practices. Nothing is perfect, including medical procedures, and that same mystique that surrounds health-care can set high expectations on a physician who orders an MRI. When a patient pays the exorbitant price for an MRI, satisfactory results are expected. MRI may provide an answer, but that is not the same thing as a solution. The cause of pain may be discovered, but a physician still may not be able to completely solve the condition. This can cause frustration towards health-care providers, even when the real issue is that humans have much to learn about the practice of medicine.

This whole process of taking an MRI scan takes minimal time, sometimes as little as 20 minutes. But in the process, an MRI produces a magnetic field measured at approximately 1.5 Teslas, which is 30,000 times greater than the magnetic field felt on the surface of the earth. This requires expensive raw materials and up-keep of the machine. The high cost is reflected on the bills of the patients who require the services of an MRI scan, simultaneously deterring doctors from prescribing the procedure to patients who may not be able to afford the steep price tag. The median price of an MRI before insurance coverage was about $1,100, as of 2014 (Glover). More people require the use of MRI than there are health care professionals who can operate and interpret MRI scans. Because there are essentially a few select individuals who “control” the technology of MRI, this could be described as an authoritarian type of technology.

The power of the technology rests in the hands of health care professionals, while patients depend on these providers to prescribe and execute scans. Of course, this is understandable, because the amount of skill and training that goes in to the entire process is just as important as the technology itself. Very few individuals without medical training would be able to perform scans of their own bodies and then analyze those scans for diagnoses.

The technology in MRI having authoritarian roots leads to an ethical issue, nonetheless. MRI serves as a microcosm for healthcare and the issue of availability of healthcare to all people. Like the provision of healthcare, MRI scans can be costly to the consumer, and some insurance companies may not cover the procedure.

This reality is frustrating for many. While MRI can provide information about an existing injury or medical condition that is causing discomfort for an individual, MRI can also be utilized to preemptively detect cancer tumors that are too small for traditional methods of screening to detect. Some forms of breast cancer are so aggressive, that by the time a mammogram detects a tumor, it is often too late.

Early detection is the key for most diseases, and MRI provides that next big step in preventative medicine. We need to look ahead, into the horizon–if this medical procedure could become a basic commodity at physicals and other check-ups, it would transform human life. The true potential of MRI will be achieved when the advanced technology works in harmony with the increased patient/physician interaction. MRI needs to work for the physician, and the physician for the patient. The answer to preventative medicine may not lie in discovering new, more advanced technologies, but maybe in finding methods that allow us to produce and operate our current technologies in such a manner that the general population has access to the numerous health benefits.

Works Cited

Gould, Todd. “How MRI Works.” Howstuffworks. 1 Jan. 2014. Web.


Glover, Lacie. “How Much Does an MRI Cost?” Nerdwallet. 1 May 2014. Web. 3 Mar. 2015.


Winner, Langdon. Do Artifacts Have Politics? 1986.