When your doctor says you need an MRI or a CT scan, you have more options than you may realize when it comes to where you receive that test. A decade ago, a hospital may have been the only option. But today, outpatient imaging centers are nearly everywhere. They offer the same services, but with faster, more convenient appointments, comfortable environments, and lower cost.
Not all imaging centers are created equal, however. It's important to find a reputable facility that meets your needs. Follow these four tips to help you decide what center to visit.
1. Look for Quality and Accreditation
You want to make sure you're going to a facility that meets industry standards for safety and training. The center should be accredited by the American College of Radiology and staffed with certified technicians and board-certified radiologists.
Depending on your health needs, you may want to find a center with a radiologist who subspecializes in a particular area, such as breast health, cardiology, or musculoskeletal health. This physician may be on-site or a consulting physician who reviews your results.
For more details on the center, look online for customer reviews and quality data.
2. Ask About Cost
Today's health care consumers bear a larger share of the cost for imaging tests than they used to, with higher copays and high-deductible health plans. One advantage of outpatient imaging centers is that they can streamline their workflow and provide lower costs.
However, each center doesn't charge the same price. Check first to see whether the center is in your insurance network. This reduces your out-of-pocket costs and makes sure the bill counts toward your deductible. Then, ask about the cost of each test you need. If you're unable to pay your portion of the service, ask whether the center offers payment plans.
3. Seek Out Convenience
When it comes to what people want from their health care, Advisory Board found that convenience factors top the list. That's why outpatient imaging is a top choice for many people. Freestanding facilities have up-front parking and sometimes even valet parking. Many also offer evening, weekend, and same-day appointments. They also aim to go above and beyond with spalike atmospheres in some cases, especially for mammograms and women's imaging services.
Also, make sure the center offers all the services you need. MRIs, X-rays, PET scans, and mammograms are likely offered at any center. But nuclear medicine and echocardiography, for example, may be harder to find.
4. Pay Attention to Technology
Technology is advancing rapidly in health care imaging. Your primary care or referring physician may have some guidance on what specific requirements you should look for related to the tests that you need. For example, is a 3-D mammogram best for you, based on your breast tissue? Do you need an MRI but suffer from claustrophobia? Look for a center with an open MRI or wide-bore MRI machine.
Your doctor will be able to recommend an imaging provider to get you started. But because the cost and time for imaging tests can add up, it pays to do some research in advance.