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.

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



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