PEORIA — Four inches may not sound like a lot, but it can make a big difference during an MRI.

The new wide-bore magnetic resonance imaging machine at the OSF Centers for Health in north Peoria features a 27.5 inch tube, four inches larger than a traditional MRI machine. But in truth, it’s probably the Caring Suite around the machine that is making it more popular with patients. The new MRI suite is designed to soothe people suffering from anxiety and claustrophobia. Historically, about 10 percent of patients were unable complete the test in a standard MRI machine.

“In the past they would come in and say, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ and we’d say, ‘Well, just come look at the machine and see what you think,’ said Debbie Mullen, an MRI technologist assistant at the Center for Health. “They’d come into the old MRI suite and say, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ Now that we have the Caring Suite, we bring them in here and they say, ‘Yes, I’ll try it.’”

While the size of the tube is definitely helpful, it’s the environment around the machine that helps calm people, said Mullen. The Caring Suite is outfitted with adjustable colored lights. Patients also get to choose the color and what music plays throughout the test. Surfaces in the suite were designed to look less clinical — wood grain warms up the floor and cabinets, and even the side of the MRI machine. But perhaps most calming is a summery scene on the ceiling, a leaf-filled tree against a deep blue sky. It’s positioned right where patients look while being readied for the test.

“A few weeks ago a man in excruciating pain came in, and he commented on that ceiling,” said Mullen.

OSF HealthCare’s new wide-bore MRI machine and Caring Suite have been in the works for four years, ever since Jamie White, manager of CT & MRI outpatient diagnostics, saw the setup at a trade show in Chicago and brought the idea home.

“It’s a way to keep patients calm without medication,” she said.

Because the machine is bigger than the center’s old MRI machine, a 1,700 square foot addition had to be constructed onto the Center for Health to house the Caring Suite. Construction began last March, and the suite served its first patient at the end of November.

Compared to the old MRI suite — a re-purposed conference room — the new suite is huge. There is plenty of room for the technicians.

“The suite has improved workflow for staff,” said Phil Baer, Director of Outpatient Diagnostic Services for OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center. “There is just more space, more room to work around the table.”

In addition to offering patients an improved experience, the wide-bore MRI also provides an improved test.

“The new machine produces a much higher quality image with less noise, which helps the radiologist better detect findings,” said White. The machine also gets the job done faster, said Baer.

“The actual MRI scan time is probably going to be about 10 to 15 minutes less on the new equipment, so that's a definite benefit when it comes to being in a confined space,” said Baer.

For now the old MRI machine is still in use at the Center for Health, one of the busiest imaging centers in the area. It performs 5,000 MRIs a year. The old MRI machine will soon be phased out, and a second wide-bore MRI caring suite is expected to be installed in Peoria at OSF Medical Group — Glen Park Place early next summer.

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or Follow her on, and subscribe to her on