An Exploration of The Cost of MRI Systems

MRI systems are large, complicated pieces of technology that are incredibly beneficial to helping doctors pinpoint issues patients may have with their internal structures and organs as well as to make accurate diagnoses. As you can image, they're not exactly cheap. There's a reason why it costs patients anywhere between $400 and $3,500 to have an MRI scan performed. Not only are the systems themselves expensive, but they are very expensive to install and maintain as well.

MRI Systems Are Expensive to Buy

MRI systems are a bit pricey, which is why you should do your due diligence before deciding to invest in an MRI system. There are a variety of different MRI systems to choose from. Although it is possible to find used MRI systems that cost as little as $150,000, a typical new MRI system tends to cost around $1.2 million, while high-end systems can run upwards of $3 million. There are many reasons for this. MRI systems are complicated pieces of technology made up of many components, meaning they are expensive to build, install, and maintain.

MRI Systems Are Expensive to Build

MRI systems consist of numerous moving parts and make use of receivers to capture images as well as computers to digitize them. But it's the magnets that make an MRI system cost so much to build. The magnets are what create the magnetic force that allow the images to be recorded in the first place. The more powerful the magnetic field is, the higher-quality the diagnostic images will be. The strength of the magnetic field is recorded in Teslas, and the more Teslas an MRI system is capable of, the more expensive it is.

MRI Systems Are Costly to Install

Because MRI systems produce extremely strong magnetic fields, they must be isolated in their own room. It can cost up to a $100,000 just to build this room. Otherwise, there's a risk that the magnetic field interferes with various nearby electronic devices, such as the pacemakers that some patients may have. Besides needing their own room, many MRI systems are extremely large. To properly install them takes time and expertise.

MRI Systems Are Costly to Maintain

Considering the amount of high-end technology involved, the cost of your investment, and patient safety, it's important that you pay for regular MRI system maintenance. Unfortunately, this can be costly, especially when repairs are needed. But even if your MRI system remains in excellent condition throughout its lifetime, you will still have to add liquid helium to keep the magnet cool. This means replacing the liquid helium whenever its levels start getting low.

The size and type of MRI system you have will greatly impact how much your maintenance costs will be. A lower end open MRI system or extremity MRI system could cost as little as $2,000 a month, whereas a high-end closed MRI system could cost as much as $10,000 a month or more to maintain.

Differences in Costs of Systems

There are several factors that determine how much an MRI system costs, including the type of MRI system, the size, the strength of its magnet, and more. Sometimes it even depends on the manufacturer. Some manufacturers are simply known for building higher-quality MRI systems than others, and tend to be more expensive as a result.

MRI Systems Have Different Strengths

MRI systems are measured by their magnetic strength in units of Tesla. There are MRI systems available at 0.2 Tesla, but the standard closed MRI system tends to be around 1.2 Tesla. The higher powered the magnets are, the faster the MRI system will perform its scans and the higher quality the images will be. Of course, the higher-powered the magnets are, the more expensive the MRI system will be.

MRI Systems Come in Different Sizes

Most closed MRI systems come with bores between 55cm and 60cm wide. There are also more specialized versions that come with 70cm bores. Many facilities opt for MRI systems with larger bores to more easily scan larger patients. Larger bores are also less anxiety-inducing for patients, however, the wider the bore is, the more costly the MRI system will be.

Different Styles of Systems

There are several different types of MRI systems to choose from. Some are bigger than others, which means that they are likely to be more expensive since they will be more complicated to build and install. For example, a closed MRI system is much, much bigger than an extremity MRI system, which is only meant for scanning one extremity (hand, arm, leg, foot) at a time. Different types of MRI systems also use different sized magnets, which will impact the price.

Closed MRI (Traditional)

The closed MRI systems tend to be the most high-powered versions, which means you can expect to pay between $1.2 and $3 million. For many facilities, these are worth the cost due to the quality of the images and the speed at which they are taken. Besides the power of the magnets used, the size of the bore will have an effect on the cost as well.

Open MRI

Open MRI systems only require patients to be inserted halfway and are open on the sides. This is more comfortable for patients since they are less anxiety-inducing. However, they aren't usually as high-powered, making them more affordable than closed MRI systems. Higher end open MRI systems have been marketed around the $1.0 to $1.2 million mark.

Upright MRI

Although upright MRI systems are extremely large, they typically only use magnets with a power of 0.6T. They can still be quite expensive due to their size and their function (they allow patients to be scanned in standing and seated positions). While 0.6T may not seem strong compared to higher end closed MRI systems, the convenience of an upright MRI system may make up for it. You'll still get good quality diagnostic images, as well as the ability to scan larger or physically challenged patients. Upright MRIs are often even more effective than closed MRIs detecting certain conditions that are more apparent when the patient is in a standing position.

New vs Used

There are used and refurbished MRI systems available on the market at discount prices.  Many facilities will sell their old MRI systems if they have just invested in a new one. This typically means if you buy a refurbished MRI system, you're probably buying one that's more than a few years old.

All Things Considered

The cost of an MRI system depends on many different factors, including the type of MRI system, the power of the magnet, the installation costs, the construction of the specialized room to house the MRI system, the maintenance costs, and of course the cost of your MRI technicians, who are generally paid between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. The initial costs of a high-end MRI system could cost millions, while the monthly costs will most likely be in the thousands.