How to Select a MRI Provider

Did you know that health care has a well-hidden secret?

It's a little known fact Health Care is actually a service that provided to you, the patient. As such, patients have the right to exercise choice when selecting a MRI provider. As a consumer, you make conscientious choices everyday about what to buy and where to go to make your purchases. Health Care is no different. You, the patient, can make a well-informed decision about where to go and who will deliver the service and customer care you deserve.

We want to help you make an informed decision when considering different MRI providers. The content on this page is designed to be a resource for you. We want to help you understand what questions you should ask and the factors that should be considered in your decision making process.

There are the fifteen questions basic that should be asked of any MRI Provider. We've broken the questions into four categories; the questions you should ask about the facility, the questions you should ask about cost, the questions you should ask about the technology and, finally, the questions you should ask about the staff. Open all the questions or click on a category to learn more about what to ask, how to ask ask it and why it should be asked.

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Q: Questions to Ask about the MRI Facility

How Quickly can I Schedule my Appointment?

Did you know that many MRI facilities, hospitals especially, are booked for days, or even weeks. This translates into long wait times for patients seeking to schedule a MRI Exam. Long wait times can be frustrating, especially if you are in pain as a result of your illness or injury. Sometimes the most compelling reason for a seeking out a MRI provider not associated with your referring Doctor or Hospital is simply the amount of time you'll need to wait for an appointment.

Many out-patient MRI facilities and independent clinics often have less of a wait time, and can even get you in the same or the next day. This can mean a faster scan, quicker results and a shorter recovery time for patients. If your facility is unable to accomodate you in what you consider to be a reasonable amount of time, try looking around for other options in your area. Remember, you don't always have to wait!

When will I get my Results?

Did you know that the industry standard for receiving results is 24-hours or less. It's important, however, to check with your provider to see if they follow this standard. Some facilities are not able to comply with this standard, so it's important to check ahead of time. You don't want to be stuck waiting for results when you're in pain. 

It's also important to know how your Doctor will access your results. Some hospitals and clinics have doctor-accesible portals which make it easy for doctors to login and access your results. Other clinics will provide a patient a CD just following their exam. This CD can then be taken to your referring doctor during your next scheduled appointmnt. Still other clinics work with actual film scans, which will need to be hand-delivered or mailed to you're Doctor's Office. This can mean additional wait times before your Doctor is able to provide you with a diagnosis. 

What if I'm Claustrophobic?

Did you know that there are two types of MRI scanners? Open magnets and closed magnets. Patients who are truly claustrophobic may benefit from an open magnet, which reduces the feeling of claustrophobia. There is, however, a draw back. Radiologists and other experts agree that closed scanners produce the best pictures, allowing for a more accurate diagnosis. Patients may need to weigh their anxiety over having a MRI against having better results.

Another option for patients with claustrophobia is sedation. Sedation can drastically reduce the feeling of claustrophobia allowing claustrophobic patients to take advantage of a closed MRI scanner. Patients should speak with their referring physicians for seadtion options prior to their MRI Scan. Most MRI Facilties are unable to provide patients with the sedation at the time of their exam, so patients should plan accordingly with their doctors. 

It is important to note that many patients experience some level of anxiety before and during a MRI Exam. Dedicated technologists and staff at your MRI faciltiy can help to ease these fears by being patient-centric. Staff should always explain the procedure and what patients should expect to during their exam. Patients are often surprised by the sounds that a MRI scanner produces. Be sure to ask your provider or listen to a sound clip. Always ask questions ahead of time to ensure that your provider is capable of giving you the care you need.

How Far will I have to Walk?

Patients who require a MRI Scan may have a difficult time walking due to the very injury or illness that requires the patient to seek a MRI in the first place. Patients who do have difficulty walking should ask their MRI provider about parking options and the distance they'll be required to walk.

Out patient MRI clinics are often more accessible for patients given that they are not located inside a larger hospital complex. If you are seeking treatment at a hospital, be sure to ask your provider about wheelchair or transportation options if the MRI Scanner is located a long distance from the parking lot.

Does your Facility Run On-Time?

Timeliness can be a challenge for any facility and patients should be aware of factors that may cause a longer wait time when they arrive at their appointment. Hospitals, particularly large hospitals with trauma centers, may be required to serve emergency room and surgical patients before their out-patient appointments. This may occasionally cause longer than anticipated wait-times.

Patients with time constraints may want to seek an out-patient MRI center that does not service surgical or emergency room patients. This will help to ensure that your appointment time is reserved for you and you alone. Another tactic is to schedule a very early morning appintment. As the day goes on, a MRI facility may find themselves more and more backed up, causing escalating wait times. Morning appointments minimize this cascade effect. 


Q: Questions to Ask About the Technology and Magnet

What type of Scanner do you Have?

Many patients don't realize that there are two types of MRI scanners available to patients. Experts agree that closed scanners take the best images. This can increase the chances of an accurate diagnosis. Closed scanners are much like a hollow, circular tube that surrounds the patient on all sides. Many people find closed scanners to be uncomfortable or "close," depsite the fact that they take the best images.

Open scanners provide a solution to the problem of claustrophobia. They are also a good option for larger patients and bariatric patients. Closed scanners do have a maximum weight capacity, typically 350 pounds for a standard board and up to 500 pounds for a large board. Patients who may be close to these maximum capacities should discuss their weight with their MRI Provider to ensure that the scanner can accommodate them. 

Patients with claustrophobia may want to speak with their referring physician regarding options for sedation. Sedated patients do not experience the sensations and panic associated with claustrophobia, which may allow them to take advantage of a closed scanner and the better images it provides.

What is the Strength of the Magnet?

Like commerical magnets, the magnets in MRI machines have different stength capabilities, measured in Teslas. The strength of the magnet can greatly impact the quality of the images produced by the MRI Scan. Currently, the industry-standard is a 1.5 Tesla scanner. Some facilities still have legacy scanners with strengths of 0.2-0.7 Tesla. While these legacy machines can still generate images, they are often more challenging for radiologist to interpret, which could ultimately affect a diagnosis. 

Some hospitals, particularly reasearch hospitals, may have access to MRI Scanners with a 3.0 Tesla or "3t" magnet. Three Tesla scanners can be exceptionally helpful in performing some neurological, advanced orthopedic and cardiac exams. Your referring physician will specificy if a 3 Tesla magnet is required. If this type of advanced imaging is required, a patient should ask their provider if they have a "3t" machine. 

Does the Facility have the Proper Equipment for my Exam?

Many patients don't realize that most MRI procedures require specialized, anatomy-specific components to perform scans on different parts of the body. Without the correct, exam-specific components the images taken during the scan may not be optimal and may causes issues during the diagnostic process. Some exams also require specific software for optimal imaging. Breast scans, for example, require both a specific coil and specialized software to perform simultaneous scanning of both breasts. Without both of these items, scans must be perfomed over two days and can take up three hours. Having the specialized equipment reduces scanning time to 45 minutes in a single, one-day appointment.

Patients should know which part of their body their referring doctor wants to have scanned and consult their MRI provider to ascertain if they have the correct equipment for the scan. This simple question can reduce the amount of time you need to spend in the MRI facility and will avoid poor quality scans.

How Old is your Equipment?

Did you know that the age of the scanner and magnet is actually less important than the version of the software? Older versions of the software used to generate the image can be out-dated and can produce less than optimal images. This can impact the diagnostic process. Software that is three years or older no longer represent current technology. It is considered best practice to update MRI software on a yearly basis.

Q: Questions to Ask About Transparent Pricing and Out-of-Pocket Costs

What are the Out-of-Pocket Costs of my MRI Scan?

Did you know that there isn't one standard fee or price for a MRI Scan? Different hospitals and facilities charge different fees for comparable scans and services. Many MRI facilities, especially hospitals, don't even advertise their fee structure up front. That's why it's so important for patients to ask how much their MRI Scans and Results will cost, even if you have insurance and are working with an in-network provider. Increasingly, insurance companies and plans include out of pocket costs that need to be covered by you, the patient. Make sure that you're clear on the fee structure up from to avoid unanticipated bills following your exam.   

It's also important to realize that some facilties will bill separately for the MRI scan and for the radiologist's time to read and interpret the scan. It can be frsutrating for patients to receive multiple bills for what may seem like a single service. Make sure you know how you will be billed, and by who. 

Does your Facility Accept my Insurance Plan?

Did you know that not all hospitals and imaging facilities accept all insurance and health care plans? Be sure to ask any MRI provider that you're considering if they are an in-network provider for your particular insurance plan. If the facility is unable to answer the question, check with your insurance company prior to having your MRI Scan performed. Patients are likely to pay less in out-of-pocket costs if they select an in-network provider.

Patients should also understand that most MRI providers have different pricing contracts with different insurance companies. The costs you end up paying for your MRI scan can vary greatly depending upon your insurance plan. Make sure you speak with the clinic about any up-front costs you may need to cover. In addition, coinsurance plans will typically cover between 10% and 40% of the total billed amount. 

In ideal situations, patients should seek out hospitals or clinics that provide transparent pricing to both patients and insurance companies. 

Will your Facility Pre-Approve my Exam?

Many insurance companies and health care plans require a pre-authorization or a pre-approval for any MRI Exam. For these types of companies and plans, any MRI performed prior to pre-authorization will not be covered by your insurance company. This can mean a very costly bill following your exam.

To prevent this from happening, patients need to understand if their insurance company requires pre-authorization and who is responsible for seeking that pre-authorization. As a service, some clinics will call your insurance company or helath care provider for a pre-authorization ahead of your visit. However, this is not a guarantee! Make sure you ask the MRI provider you're considering whether or not this is a service they provide for their patients. 

Q: Questions to Ask about the Doctors and Staff

Who will Read and Interpret my Scan?

MRI Providers have a variety of different options for having scans read and interpreted. Some facilities may have radiologist on staff who can interpret scans on location. While others may choose to electronically send the images to outside source to have them read. Patients should understand how their MRI scan is going to be read and interpreted and how their referring physician will receive the results. Even though you'll discuss the results of your scan and your diagnosis with your referring physician, a radiologist will have read your scan first and presented their interpretation to your phyiscian.

Patients should also understand that specialized scans, like a breast MRI, may need to be read by a radiologist with specific training in interpreting that exam. A radiologist who has not had special training or a fellowship in that area may not be as qualified to read the exam as another radiologist who's had training. Make sure you ask your MRI provider about the radiologist reading your exam, particularly if it's a highly specialized exam.

Is the Facility Managed by a Board-Certified Radiologist?

Did you know that some facilities are managed by doctors who are not radiologists? Only radiologists with years of specialized training are equipped to accurately read and interpret scans. Patients should know who will be reading their scans. This can have a huge impact on the accuracy of your diagnosis.

Does the Facility Employ Registered Technologists?

Did you know that MRI facilities are not required to hire registered technologists? Registered technologists go through rigorous training programs and are required to have a working knowledge of the physics and science behind magnetic resonance technology. This allows them to better operate the equipment and walk patients step-by-step through the procedure. A good technologist can make the different between having a good procedure and an uncomfortable one.

Patients should definitely ask their MRI providers if they use registered MRI technologists. This will make a different in the quality of your results and the quality of your patient experience. Nobody really wants to have a MRI scan performed. In the event that you need one, you should ask questions about your technologist to ensure that you have the most comfortable exam possible.  

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