Can I Get an MRI Scan Without a Referral?

Thanks to capitalism, you can get a lot of things without asking for much permission or getting a referral. This includes many diagnostics like an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). An MRI can be a very expensive diagnostics procedure. It is also very involved and takes a bit of time to set up.

MRI of head

The MRI machine is also quite large and expensive so every clinic is not equipped with one. In fact, many small clinics will refer you to larger hospitals. However, there are some instances where a person may want to get an MRI without the referral of a primary care physician. This could be for a number of reasons including general curiosity, getting a second opinion, or even preparing for a malpractice lawsuit.

Because MRI is of the more expensive and higher quality scans, it can be more difficult to get. These machines are also not available everywhere, so you have to take into account travel and accessibility. The point is that it can be done.

Regardless of the reason for getting an MRI without a referral, it is possible. It may require a bit more effort and definitely more money. Many insurance companies will only pay for what your physician will prescribe. Anything outside of that will be personal costs unless you have an HSA (Health Savings Account) that you can access.

What is an MRI?

An MRI is a non-invasive imaging technology that is used to view anatomical structures within the body. This is done through the use of magnetic resonance. This technology can be used to diagnose injury and disease as well as monitor the body during treatment. MRI’s are usually taken for specific regions of the body. For example, a common MRI is for the brain and spinal cord. This is a great way to check for bleeding, swelling of the brain and/or around the spinal cord. It is also a great way to check for damage.

Another common region is the abdominal area. This is where doctors will normally check for internal injuries or other issues like tumors. An MRI can check for damaged organs like the spleen which is a typical site for internal bleeding.

An MRI works by aligning the positively charged particles (protons) within the body to a magnetic field. Radiofrequency waves are pulsed through the body. As those waves interact with those protons, it results in images that allow physicians to decipher between specific tissues and organs.

This procedure causes no harm to the patient. However, it can be disconcerting during the process. The patient has to lie very still while inside of a hollow tube. For those with claustrophobia or any other anxieties, make sure to speak with your physician about medical intervention.

Why Do Doctors Refuse MRI?

MRIs are usually prescribed by a primary care physician or an emergency doctor if there is a suspicion of injury or disease. These are very expensive machines and require specialized technicians to run them. In areas that do not have immediate access to these machines, it can be difficult to schedule a scan. In addition to that, for non emergent scans, there may be a list of those waiting for the machine.

Doctors may refuse to prescribe an MRI if they don’t see a viable reason to do so. It could be that a patient may not be showing signs of internal injury or disease. In cases of needing a neurological MRI, a full neurological exam should be performed prior. In these cases an MRI would be used to confirm any disease based on neurological defects.

In the case of an abdominal MRI, a physical exam should be performed prior as well. If there is no tenderness, distension, or tightness of the abdomen, a physician may not readily prescribe an MRI to a patient even if they have suffered physical trauma.

That is not to say that there aren’t other options. Some of those options are also cheaper than an MRI. An X-ray can reveal a lot about what is going on within the body. Even when it comes to organs. Ultrasound is also a fast way to see what is going on inside of the body as well. Ultrasound machines are also becoming more readily available in hospitals. There are even some technologies where you can attach a probe to a smart device like a phone or tablet and perform an ultrasound at the bedside.

There could be many reasons why your doctor did not prescribe an MRI in a specific incident. However, if you disagree with his/her/their recommendations, you can go around that.

How to get an MRI scan without a Referral

Getting an MRI without a referral can be a little complicated. There aren’t many hospitals that will do it without a physical exam and some sort of hospital record. Fortunately, you can get access to your own records and have those transferred to a different hospital and start there.

You may have better luck at privately owned hospitals or at free-standing imaging facilities. These hospitals are not as bound by budgetary needs as a more publicly-funded hospital. Also, as medical costs increase, people are shopping around for these types of medical procedures. There are locations outside of hospitals that only do MRI scans or any other diagnostic scans a la carte.

It is best to call around and see what these locations offer and what is required of you before arriving. Make sure to ask about payment options as well as talking with a technician or an actual physician afterwards to interpret your results. The average person will not know what they are looking at if they were to see an MRI scan on a screen. You are going to need to talk with a professional about what is there.

If there is anything abnormal, the doctor will be able to give recommendations for next steps, further referrals, etcetera. If there are no present concerns, you can speak with another physician about next steps as well.

How Much Does an MRI Scan Cost?

The cost of an MRI can vary based on a number of factors including location. It could be based on what area(s) need to be scanned as well. There are also different types of MRIs (closed/open). Generally, MRIs range from $400 to $3,500. This could also change depending on if you are using insurance. Without insurance, an MRI could cost closer to $5,000.

If you are going to a free-standing facility, these prices may be lower than what you will find in a hospital. Insured and uninsured patients make use of these spaces. If you are going to get an MRI without a referral, your insurance may not pay for this testing. That is definitely going to be a major consideration. Depending on who you open the account with, you could use an HSA (health savings account) to pay for this service.

Possibly the better option would be to seek out a second opinion and request a referral for an MRI scan from your second physician. This could eliminate many of the obstacles you may run into. While your reasons for seeking out a private MRI scan may be valid, it could also be more difficult than if you go through the usual channels.

Proceeding from Here

In conclusion, an MRI is a high-tech method of looking at the anatomical structures within the body like the brain, spinal cord, and abdominal organs. While there are other technologies that could be used during an examination, an MRI is definitely more advanced. Some doctors may have many reasons for not prescribing an MRI, but if you disagree, there are ways around that. You can seek out a private MRI scan. It may be more difficult and definitely more expensive because your insurance is less likely to pay for it. Due to the increase in medical costs, there are more options for people to shop around with or without insurance.

You will at some point need the help of a professional after getting your scans. A professional will help you interpret those scans and determine next steps. While it is not recommended to get any type of diagnostic procedure without a prescription or a referral, many are available to people without them. You just have to work a bit harder for it.

Click the following link to learn the difference between radiology and medical imaging.

Terrisha Buckley

Terrisha Buckley is a biologist with research experience in the fields of cancer pharmacology and virology. She seeks to improve the communication between the STEM community and the rest of the world.

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