Veterinary care has undergone an explosion over the past 15 years. Many pet owners now seek the best possible therapies for veterinary care. In the realm of veterinary neurology, special imaging (MRI or CAT scans) is integral to providing non-invasive diagnostic modalities.
Veterinary medicine has evolved into a hierarchy such as that seen in human medicine. There are primary care practioners (PCPs), and there are specialists. Many residency-trained veterinary specialties include areas such as neurology, surgery, oncology, cardiology, internal medicine, dermatology, and ophthalmology.
In recent years, specialty centers have developed to provide services to the PCPs and their clients/patients. These specialty centers use leading technologies to deal with the constantly evolving, complex medical problems seen in veterinary patients. Clients are normally referred by their PCP to the centers to see a specialist. Most specialty centers do not see general practice problems and strictly see patients referred for a particular problem.
MRI technology has only been around since 1980 and did not gain widespread use in the human field until the late 1980's and early 1990's. In veterinary medicine, high costs prohibited the use of MRI in animals until the mid 1990's.
Many veterinary specialists have been forced to rely on local human diagnostic facilities to provide them with after-hours MRI availability for their patients. Only a limited number of MRI units are currently operated by veterinarians as dedicated patient units. Cost and caseload are the two primary reasons for this. Even as equipment costs have declined, other costs that are often overlooked such as MRI technologist salaries, maintenance contracts, facility set-up, electricity, etc. serve as deterrents to establishing dedicated MRI facilities. In addition, the PCP is usually not qualified to interpret the results since there is virtually no training in veterinary school on this subject, and most PCPs do not have the facilities or expertise to deal with the medical problem once diagnosed For example, the patient may require advanced surgery or other diagnostics not available to the PCP.
For these reasons many PCPs are wary of referring patients to diagnostic centers that may charge $700-$1,500 for an MRI. Their clients would be displeased because they may be told following an MRI that nothing can be done about the diagnosed problem. Instead, PCPs refer their clients to veterinary specialists. In contrast to the PCPs' concerns, the veterinary specialist is in dire need of MRI because of the excellent information that they can acquire from this test. They thrive on this modality because of its non-invasive characteristics.
For example, without an MRI available, animals that have spinal cord problems are evaluated with a myelogram. A myelogram is necessary because the spinal cord cannot be visualized on a regular radiograph. A myelogram is performed by injecting a contrast substance (dye) around the spinal cord through a spinal tap. Radiographs are then taken to evaluate the spinal cord.