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Coming Soon To Your Smartphone: Where The Cheaper MRIs Are

Picture it: Your doctor tells you that you need an MRI. Okeydoke, you say, pulling out your smartphone and typing in your zipcode. Up pop the 20 closest high-quality imaging centers, and you choose the most convenient.

That's my visualization based on a casual mention that Blue Cross Blue Shield chief Andrew Dreyfus made last week of a new app now in development. "We're pretty close to delivering this," he told a health reform forum at Suffolk.

He pointed out that MRI prices can range from $500 in a community imaging center to $1500 at an academic medical center. That's certainly an incentive to help members find cheaper, free-standing centers. And we all have an incentive to seek lower cost care as we shoulder more of our own medical bills.

I asked Blue Cross for more details, and spokesperson Jenna McPhee responded that the "PILOT" app is indeed well along and should be ready for a small group of Blue Cross members to try out in the next couple of months.

The tool is designed to identify the closest free-standing imaging facilities (for MRIs, CT scans, and lab work) sorted by zip code proximity. While it does not provide specific cost information, it locates high-quality free standing imaging facilities that are lower cost than getting an MRI, etc. in a hospital setting.

Here are the key features:
Member starts search by entering a zip code
MRI Locator lists the closest free standing imaging facilities sorted by zip code proximity
Other features include:
Uses Google Maps
Member can map facilities and get driving directions
Ability to dial the facility with a click

My blue-sky dream: The app not only gives you locations, but tells you what the overall price would be at each center, and how big your co-pay would be. They can do it for gas station prices already. Maybe someday...

This program aired on March 17, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

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