Most patients don't shop around before physician-recommended MRIs, researchers find

Patients often receive nonemergency, outpatient, lower-limb MRI scans where their referring physician recommends, despite potentially higher out-of-pocket costs, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.

The study — conducted by researchers from New Haven, Conn.-based Yale University, Boston-based Harvard Medical School and New York City-based Columbia University — examined how privately insured individuals pick providers for lower-limb MRI scans. It involved more than 50,000 adults 19 to 64 years old, according to The New York Times.

Researchers said they found patients often received scans in more expensive locations when there were less expensive options. The study also found fewer than 1 percent of people used a price transparency tool to shop around before getting the MRIs.

The findings suggest referring physicians have a significant effect on where their patients receive care, the researchers concluded.

"The influence of referring physicians is dramatically greater than the effect of patient cost-sharing," they said. "As a result, in order to lower out-of-pocket costs and reduce total MRI spending, patients must diverge from the established referral pathways of their referring physicians. We also observe that patients with vertically integrated [hospital-owned] referring physicians are more likely to have hospital-based [and more costly] MRI scans."

Read more about the study here.


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