Why are MRI scans so expensive?

The cost of an MRI scan has many factors that contribute to the overall price paid out-of-pocket by the patient. One of the largest costs associated with Magnetic Resonance Imaging is the initial cost to purchase and install an MRI scanner. A new MRI scanner with high definition MRI coils, software imaging options and installation can run into the millions of dollars.

Accredited hospitals and imaging centers also require a full range of staff, medical equipment, medical facilities and Radiologists to read the images. In order to produce accurate and detailed images, MRI scanners have to be calibrated, maintained, and repaired by specially-trained service engineers.

1.5T GE MRI DQA Phantom
Axial slice of Quality Assurance phantom used to calibrate GE MRI

An MRI scan utilizes superconductive coils which are submerged in thousands of liters of liquid helium. The transfer of liquid helium into the MRI also requires hiring a highly specialized cryogen technician to perform service (video can be seen below). The cost of refilling liquid helium can be as much as $11/liter and MRI systems can boil-off as much as 2500 liter per year.

The video below shows the specialized process of transferring liquid helium into an MRI scanner.

The cost of parts to repair an MRI system when a system is unable to scan can be very expensive, so many hospitals and imaging centers opt to sign service contracts with either the manufacturer or a third-party service provider. Costs for a service contract can range from $5k/month to $25k/month depending on coverage. An MRI service contract can help to reduce the cost of an MRI by covering any costs associated with a down scanner and providing resources for liquid helium refills, coil replacement, and parts coverage.

Overall, the patient is receiving diagnostic imaging services using state-of the art equipment in a medical facility. As with any specialized procedure, one can expect to pay a premium for the service so patients must be diligent in their research to find an imaging center that meets their financial and medical needs. It is always recommended to call multiple imaging centers in the local area and schedule an appointment with the imaging center that the patient is most comfortable with.

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