Spotlight on Mark Lachapelle, MRI Technologist

Tarrytown's MRI Tech Talks About How Technology, Safety, and Communication Play a Part in Every Exam

January 11, 2022

Mark Lachapelle has worked at Columbia Radiology's Tarrytown location for the past two and a half years. His background in psychology and a love of new technology are part of the reason his patients get the best MRI exams possible. We talked to Mark about the many things that need to happen to get the high-quality images that radiologists need to make an accurate diagnosis—and how technological advances are continually improving patient outcomes.

What do you love about your job?

I love the fact that we're such a crucial part of a patient's treatment. The images I provide are going to have a huge effect on the course of treatment. There's also the technological aspect. It's constantly changing. There are upgrades, software changes, you have to constantly be learning new things, and it keeps it exciting.

What's new right now with Tarrytown MRI?

In the last six months, we got a monumental software upgrade. It's a deep learning based software and basically what it does is give us higher quality images in less time. So we're taking tests that were a half hour and now they're 15 minutes. Not only that, but they are better quality images. So the radiologists are happy, we're happy, and the patients are happy.

At the end of the day, as technologists, we put our name on these studies. So to be able to put our name on something that much better—it's a good feeling.

What's the most common question patients ask you?

The most common question I get asked is, "How long is this going to take?" And because of the new software, I'm getting a lot of, "What? They told me it was going to be a lot longer!" So they're very happy to hear that it's going to be a shorter exam, and we're very happy to tell them.

How do you help a patient who might be afraid to go in the machine?

I think a lot of it has to do with reassurance and communication, and I have experience with that from working in psychiatry. I try to give a step-by-step before anything takes place so that the patient feels confident that I know what's going on and I'm not going to abandon them when they're in there. For a patient who is a little claustrophobic, we can communicate via the console while the scan takes place. When they're more claustrophobic, we have devices that help like blindfolds, pillows, and prism glasses so that they can look out.

Patients also may have anxiety about the results. We get athletes, and they've busted their knee, and they're wondering, "Am I out for the season?" They need to be comforted and reassured so that their anxiety doesn't prevent us from providing optimal imaging. 

The good news is that at Tarrytown the MRI is wide bore. It's a lot bigger than most machines I've worked with. The wide bore gives you additional room, additional comfort, and you can keep your arms at your side instead of up over your head. It's also a short bore, which means it feel like less of a tunnel.

Usually, just explaining things makes a huge difference for the patients. If a patient is scared or uncomfortable, the reassurance and comfort I provide could be the difference between whether they go through with the test or not.

What kind of safety issues do you have to deal with?

It's a strong magnet and it's always on. A lot of patients don't understand that. They'll say, "Oh, it's not on yet, so it's safe." I have to tell them that's not how it works. That's why we have zones. That's how we keep people safe.

Screening is a crucial part of keeping my patients safe. I like to do triple screening. I screen them with the paperwork upfront, I screen them when we get back to Zone 3, and then before I let them into Zone 4 I do an extra screening as well. This extra screening may help the patient remember something they left out on their paperwork. What device they have, where it is, the strength of the magnet, how long we're scanning it for—those are the basic questions we need to answer beforehand when someone has an implant.

The good thing about Columbia is that the radiologists are very involved in the process. It makes a huge difference. If I have a question, they are a phonecall away. We're also a phonecall away from the physicists or the safety officer. Having these resources available all leads to better outcomes for patients.

Have you ever had an MRI?

The first MRI I had was years ago, for my shoulder. It was a smaller bore machine, and I was uncomfortable. If I had known more I would have gone to a place that could accomodate my shoulder width better, because I would have been less likely to move. I have a CD of the images, and I reviewed it later, when I actually knew what I was looking at. I could see that things were motion degraded. I could also see that the technologist didn't attempt to try to repeat anything. I could see the opportunities for improvement, which would have led to a better exam. So that experience actually really shaped how I approach each patient.

Being attentive, communicating, and actually caring about what you're producing is such a crucial part of this job.