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Who deserves an MRI?

The hospital with the most votes wins a MAGNETOM Essenza, a new 1.5 Tesla model it says is lighter, and uses less energy, than earlier MRIs. Publicity will help Siemens sell more units to large, urban hospitals that can afford it.

Siemens Magnetom Essenza MRIGiven the enormous amounts of capital funneling into the health care system it's easy to think there must be plenty of money for equipment.

There isn't. There are many hospitals, especially in poor and rural areas, that can't afford top-notch equipment.

Siemens Medical is taking advantage of this with a contest called Win an MRI. Hospitals can send in videos through the end of November. Site visitors can choose their favorite through December 31.

The hospital with the most votes wins a MAGNETOM Essenza, a new 1.5 Tesla model it says is lighter, and uses less energy, than earlier MRIs. Publicity will help Siemens sell more units to large, urban hospitals that can afford it.

It's clever marketing. Siemens is telling paying clients they can save $500,000 by buying the new gear. The company calls the new MRI "the most affordable" ever.

But not for everyone.

As of today 41 hospitals have sent in videos. Some are heart-wrenching. My favorite is the one from Sumter County Regional Hospital,  in Americus, Georgia, which was destroyed by a tornado last year and faces a $13 million hole in its re-construction budget.

Most of the hospitals which have entered so far are in small towns. Cut-Off, Louisiana. Machias, Maine. Chamberlain, South Dakota. Keosauqua, Iowa.

I do have a fear that someone might "freep" this poll, that is, find a way to pile in a ton of votes at the last minute, corrupting the result. It's the video entries which give me some hope, and the responsibility I'm sure Siemens Medical feels to get this right.

The rising cost of equipment has been pushing medical care into our largest cities for some time. This contest is a living testament to that fact. Given the costs, that trend is not all bad. We can't afford to put every piece of equipment in every town if the equipment costs $1 million or more.

But how bad should it be -- how far should someone have to travel for a scan?