By Becky Wiese
Consumers today have numerous choices about almost every type of good and service provided; businesses spend millions, if not billions, of dollars every year to convince said consumers to use their particular product or service. The general public — thanks in large part to technology — has become quite savvy about checking prices, services, and quality — anything that is related to what they desire to purchase. They want, to put it simply, the most bang for their buck.
However, switch the scenario to health care and use the word “patient” instead of consumer and the level of price/quality/service checking isn’t quite as fully developed.
But it is changing — especially with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And as Dr. Wayne Manness, a neuroradiologist and Advanced MRI medical director says, “Patients are becoming more aware — they do shop around more. The Affordable Care Act has forced most people to be more in control of their health care expenses, so they ask more questions about how much services cost.” Or, to be more accurate, how much services will cost them personally, based on whatever insurance plan they have.
What is often surprising to patients who come to Advanced MRI on Jumer Drive in Bloomington is the fact that they can receive the highest quality MRI images available in town for no additional cost. “Image quality doesn’t have anything to do with the charges, or what gets paid by insurance,” says Dr. Manness.
Quality Makes a Difference
The strength of the magnet is what makes the Advanced MRI machine “the best in town,” according to Dr. Manness. Magnetic strength is measured in Tesla (T) units (in honor of inventor/engineer Nikola Tesla). A 3T MRI, which is what Advanced MRI uses, has twice the magnetic strength of a 1.5T MRI, which is a common size for the closed machines (those in which a patient is completely surrounded) and four to 15 times stronger than the 0.7–0.2T open MRIs (machines which do not completely surround the patient or the specific body part being scanned).
“That higher strength affects both image resolution and time on the table for the patient,” explains Dr. Manness. “If we wanted an image that looks like one from a 1.5T machine, we could get it in half the time. What we end up doing is a little of both: get a better quality image in a shorter period of time.”
The better resolution isn’t just for aesthetics. The higher the quality, the better the images, and the easier it is for the radiologist to get a good reading so that the treating physician can make better decisions — all of which increase the chance of a better outcome for the patient.
High quality scans aren’t valuable unless they are interpreted correctly, however. Advanced MRI scans are interpreted by one of eight subspecialists in radiology who make up the Central Illinois Neuroradiology physician group. Each subspecialist is fellowship trained to read MRIs for specific areas of the body.
Patient Comfort is a Priority
For patients, the benefit of a stronger magnet is less time on the table. Although MRI scans are non-invasive and very safe, they can tend to cause some discomfort simply because the body part being scanned must remain inside a relatively small, loud, tunnel-like tube. In addition, they have to lie still, not always an easy thing to do, especially given the aforementioned scenario.
“Anytime the amount of time on the table can be decreased, especially for claustrophobic patients, it is very beneficial,” says Dr. Manness. “MRI scans are composed of several individual sequences (a series of images, each of which shows several thin slices of the body). We can do each sequence faster and patients can adjust themselves a bit between sequences — it’s less time they have to be still. Our patients are typically scanned and on their way out the door in about 30 minutes.” The patient and the technologist who runs the scanner are in constant communication, so the patient knows exactly how long to be motionless.
Other amenities at Advanced MRI focus on the patients’ comfort and convenience as well. Each patient receives ear plugs designed specifically for very high decibel levels which serve to dampen the background noise of the scanner, making the noise level similar to that of an airplane. Headphones allow patients to listen to any Sirius XM channel or they can bring in their own CDs.
The room that houses the scanner resembles a spa setting rather than a cold, clinical office. A Herb Eaton landscape mural gives the room a relaxing ambiance, as does the natural lighting provided by several windows.
Patients also can park right outside the door of the Advanced MRI office and be inside the lobby in just a few steps — no wandering halls or finding the right floor. Each patient has a specific appointment time — and, the staff focuses on that patient. The entire process is quick and easy.
While these efforts may not directly affect the diagnosis or treatment of a patient’s malady, it does make a difference in their attitude. And, according to the patient satisfaction survey feedback Advanced MRI receives on an ongoing basis, patients appreciate these details. Comments such as “Great service, explained everything, and made me feel very comfortable” and “I wouldn’t go anywhere else!” reinforce the benefits of making the extra effort to care about patient comfort.
Financial Benefit is a Bonus: No Extra Charge
Dr. Manness believes patients are learning to ask questions about costs due to the changes brought by the Affordable Care Act. “Since ACA passed, probably 50 percent of our patients now ask about prices,” he says. Still, it is not an easy thing to determine, as there is a confusing mix of charges, contracted reimbursement rates, patient insurance coverage, and co-pay amounts.
The staff at Advanced MRI will help patients sort through this mix by providing an accurate estimate of the Total MRI Cost, based on the insurance plan. Total MRI Cost is the amount that will be paid by the insurance and patient combined. Patients can then contact their insurance company to determine how much of that total is covered by their plan and how much they should expect to pay “out-of-pocket.” The out-of-pocket amount varies, based on the specifics of their plan, such as their deductible and co-pay amounts. In addition, Advanced MRI offers a cash discount to patients if their insurance company denies coverage for the MRI or if they have no insurance.
What is not well understood, Dr. Manness believes, is that the higher image quality from a scan with a 3T MRI scanner doesn’t have anything to do with the charge for the scan. In other words, a patient doesn’t pay anymore for a 3T scan than for a 1.5T scan.
Patients have a choice about where they have their MRI done. Even if their physician’s office recommends a place to have the scan, patients can still choose for themselves. It makes sense to get the highest quality images read by radiologists who specialize in a specific area of the body, then combine it with the highest level of patient comfort and convenience possible — all with no extra charge to the patient.
That fact, in conjunction with the other benefits that Advanced MRI offers for patients, makes the whole “bang for your buck” idea easy to understand when it comes to magnetic resonance imaging.
Advanced MRI is located at 1709 Jumer Drive in Bloomington. Contact them at 309-665-0640.
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