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Prices for advanced imaging, especially MRIs, vary wildly from one provider to another. But is there really a difference in quality? The answer may surprise you. 

Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI is the most commonly used imaging technique for diagnosing a wide range of medical conditions and injuries. MRIs use magnetic fields and computer algorithms instead of radiation to see inside the body. The images captured are then interpreted by a radiologist and the results are sent to your doctor. 

The differences in quality from one MRI to the next are primarily determined by the qualifications of the technologist performing the study, the field strength and age of the scanner, and the training of the radiologist interpreting the study. The best MRI centers will have technologists that are highly experienced and licensed specifically to perform MRIs. Scanner quality is determined by the field strength (measured in Tesla), the quality of the software that runs the machine, and the age of the machine. A 1.5T or 3T scanner will obtain much higher quality images than a 0.6T or 1.2T scanner (often seen with open MRI machines). Radiologists that read MRIs should have training specific to MRIs and the best radiologists have subspecialty training that gives them a higher level of expertise in a specific field such as orthopedic or neurological imaging.  Not all radiologists receive this subspecialty training, and the difference in the reliability of their interpretations can vary as much as the quality of the MRI scanners.  

The cost of scans, however, typically has very little to do with any of these factors. The determining factor is most likely whether you receive your scan at the hospital system or at an independent imaging facility. Many patients believe that hospitals offer better scans, but that is not always true. Not all independent imaging centers are the same. Some offer lower-quality scans on older equipment or a mobile scanner. Others have less qualified technologists and, in some cases, have radiologists that do not have subspecialty training interpreting the exams. The best independent imaging centers have state-of-the-art equipment, which is often as good or better than local hospitals, and use academic-level radiologists that have highly specialized training.

Going to the hospital may not be an assurance of quality either. Many smaller hospitals have older equipment and may not have specialty-trained radiologists interpreting their exams. Despite offering lower quality, they often charge the highest prices. Large hospital systems generally offer high-quality exams, but quality can vary there as well depending on the same factors. There is no assurance that a large hospital system offers better quality or more timely interpretations than anywhere else. The biggest difference is likely the price.

Hospitals in Western and Northern Wisconsin charge some of the highest rates in the country for MRIs. In most cases, the quality is very good, but is it a good value? Likely not. Wisconsin PricePoint(opens in a new tab) is a public listing of the charges for most common medical procedures at every hospital in the state. Eau Claire and Wausau area hospitals charge between $1,558 and $6,719 for the most common MRIs (see chart below). These prices are unaffordable for most patients and far above national averages. 

A new competitor, however, is about to change the landscape by offering extremely high-quality MRIs for prices that are much lower, just $650 for most common MRIs and only $850 for complex MRIs (those that require the injection of contrast media and additional scanning). Smart Scan Medical Imaging was developed to offer every patient the same great service and exceptional quality images and interpretations at the same great price, regardless of how they pay for their exam, with insurance or not. It might sound too good to be true, but the team at Smart Scan has been doing so for over 20 years. Smart Scan is dedicated to serving the medical and patient communities by providing access to state-of-the-art MRIs that are affordable to patients that need them.  

Smart Scan Founder and Medical Director Dr. Jeffrey Rosengarten had this to say about bringing Smart Scan to Eau Claire and Wausau. 'I know how many patients are struggling to make ends meet. Higher deductibles and premiums make healthcare unaffordable for so many. I founded Smart Scan along with my partners to make the highest quality MRIs affordable for patients because it is the right thing to do. Patients shouldn't be charged thousands of dollars more for something we've been able to do as good or better for so much less. I grew up in a single-parent family in Southeastern Wisconsin where we often went without even the basics. I can relate to the difficult decisions many patients are forced to make, especially parents that might forgo needed care to make certain their children have what they need.  I've been joined by an equally dedicated team of radiologists and staff that believe the cost of health care is part of the quality of health care. Its not healthy to go into medical debt in order to fix your knee pain.”

Smart Scan assures quality by building efficient, comfortable clinics that house brand new GE Voyager 1.5 Tesla wide bore scanners. Every patient is treated by a highly skilled and compassionate technologist and reports are made by a team of highly specialized radiologists that are board certified and subspecialty trained. There is no more highly skilled group offering MRIs in the market.  

Service and accessibility at Smart Scan are superior to most hospitals as patients are able to get an appointment as early as the same day (depending on the requirements of their insurance) with results and images available to their doctors within just minutes of the completion of their exam. 'We strive to give not only our patients but also their referring physicians, the very best service,' said Dr. Rosengarten. 'We can't let service to your doctor be any less than what they might get at the hospital. We see every referring physician as our customer and offer collaboration and consultative care to everyone regardless of where they practice. Smart Scan is 'system agnostic' - we don't care where your doctor practices because all of our patients and referring physicians deserve the best care at the best price.'

With locations in Weston and Eau Claire, WI, Smart Scan Medical Imaging is proud to provide the highest quality MRI services to our community. Schedule an appointment with us today!