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How I saved $350 on an MRI by Asking One Question

Every year I need to have an MRI.  Every year I do the same thing – I check Healthcare Bluebook to make sure the location where I am referred is a green provider.  For the past three years I have used the same cost effective “green” MRI facility. 

This year, I searched Bluebook and I found a new green facility that is three blocks from my usual location, and $350 less expensive. Like many consumers, I have a high deductible and that $350 difference comes straight out of my pocket.  So, when it was time for my annual MRI, I called my doctor’s office and asked to be referred to the new location.  My doctor’s scheduler told me that I had to use the same location I used in the past because the doctor needed an image from the same machine to make a comparison to my prior scan.  Since my regular location was green, I relented – quality care trumped $350.

Two days later I received a letter from my doctor’s office informing me that the MRI machine where I was originally scheduled would be unavailable due to maintenance and that I had been rescheduled for a different, more expensive facility. 

Naturally, my first reaction was ‘wait a minute …didn’t you tell me that I couldn’t use a different facility because I needed to have my MRI on the same machine?’ 

I called my doctor’s office and asked why it was now acceptable to have my MRI at a different location.  The answer was simple – it wasn’t the machine that was driving the referral location, it was the fact that the my doctor’s scheduler preferred MRI facilities that were integrated with the office EMR software, and transmitted the images automatically to the doctor’s office.

I asked the office staff if there was an image quality reason not to use my preferred, less costly, facility.  The answer was no, and the staff confirmed that they regularly receive images from my preferred MRI provider.  However, I would have to bring the image to my doctor’s office – an inconvenience of roughly two city blocks between imaging center and doctor’s office.

I rescheduled my MRI for the more cost effective facility, walked the disc over on a beautiful May afternoon in Nashville, and saved $350.  A week later I met with my doctor, shared my story and asked him if he had any quality concerns related to my choice of facility – his answer?  Not at all.  He was even surprised at the cost difference.

The lesson for consumers is that it is ok to ask questions.  You pay for the care you receive, and you have a say in where you are treated.  Ask your physician or their staff whether referrals are based on clinical quality or convenience – if quality is not an issue, then request cost-effective referrals for you and your family.

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