Study finds MRI services profitable

June 5, 1991

A "typical" five-year-old magnetic resonance imagingsystem realized a profit last year of $500,000 on $2.3 millionin gross billings. This typical unit brought in net revenues of$1.8 million during the year and cost $1.3 million to

A "typical" five-year-old magnetic resonance imagingsystem realized a profit last year of $500,000 on $2.3 millionin gross billings. This typical unit brought in net revenues of$1.8 million during the year and cost $1.3 million to operate.Charges for some exams performed on the MRI system rose nearly50% from 1985 to 1990.

These figures come from a five-year study of 45 MRI installationsperformed by Dr. Ronald G. Evens, director of the MallinckrodtInstitute of Radiology in St. Louis. Evens presented results ofthe study at the American Roentgen Ray Society meeting last month.

The economics of MRI have changed radically from its earlydays when units usually lost money, he said.

"They became a break-even operation around 1987 and nowresult in a large revenue gain for users," he said

The changes MRI units have undergone since their introductionrepresent a typical pattern for a new technology, Evens said.

"As the demand increases, as third-party payers pay, aswe get more efficient and as prices rise, MRI becomes quite profitable,"he said.

Charges for MRI exams have increased markedly. The global chargefor a nonenhanced head study rose 45% from $652 to $945 over thefive-year period. Charges have gone up similarly for other anatomicalsites.

Users surveyed in 1990 operated their units an average of 5.5days per week, scheduling patients about 65 hours per week andaveraging just over 11 patients per day. The studies were accomplishedby slightly more than one full-time radiologist assigned to theunit, along with three technologists and 1.5 additional assistants.

The biggest change in the MRI business in the last five yearshas been increased use of contrast media, Evens said. Gadolinium-DTPAis used in 42% of head exams and 21% of spines, as well as inabout 4% of bone/joint scans and roughly 6% of body and otherscans. There is wide variability in contrast use, however, withsome institutions using it rarely and others employing it in almostall cases, he said.

The typical global charge for outpatient MRI exams approaches$1000, with an additional $200 for contrast-enhanced studies.Technical charges average about $750 and the professional feeis just over $200, varying little according to the type of study.

"Some brave individuals are actually adding a professionalcharge when injecting contrast," Evens said.