Urgent Care

Can I Get an MRI at Urgent Care?

Ashley Brooks
Ashley Brooks21 Dec 2021

Most urgent care centers do not offer MRIs, although some do. Check the facility website or call the urgent care directly to see if they provide MRIs. Otherwise, you may need to visit a diagnostic imaging center or another facility to get an MRI. You will need to be referred by a doctor or have a prescription, which you can get from an urgent care center. 

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Can I Get an MRI at Urgent Care?

More often than not, urgent care centers do not offer MRIs; however, they may have other diagnostic tools such as x-rays, ultrasounds, and echocardiograms (EKGs). To check to see if an urgent care center has an MRI machine, first try looking at facility websites under “services” to see if an MRI is listed. You can also try calling the urgent care center directly. 

If you go to an urgent care center and the doctor determines you need an MRI, they will likely order an MRI, which you will need to get at another facility. Your health care provider may order an MRI when more detail about your medical condition is required and cannot be determined using an x-ray or ultrasound. 

Where To Get an MRI

If you visit a doctor for an issue that may require an MRI scan, you will likely be redirected to a facility that specializes in diagnostic imaging. Typically, MRIs can be done at either inpatient or outpatient facilities, but the facility can dramatically impact the cost of care. If you are not dealing with a medical emergency, getting an MRI at an outpatient facility is more cost-effective. The national average cost for an MRI at inpatient facilities is $2,250, versus $650 at outpatient facilities. 

Below we list some common outpatient and inpatient facilities that may offer MRIs. 

Outpatient Facilities

  • Medical group practices
  • Outpatient clinics at hospitals
  • Surgery centers
  • Imaging centers
  • Cardiac catheterization centers
  • Lab centers
  • Gastrointestinal centers
  • Physical therapy centers
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy centers

Inpatient Facilities

  • Acute care facilities
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Addiction treatment facilities
  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Long-term care facilities

When MRIs Are Used 

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine is a large, tube-shaped magnet that uses a magnetic field and computer-generated radio waves to form detailed images of the organs and tissues in your body. These machines can also produce 3D images for viewing the body at different angles. During the test, you will lay down on the MRI tube’s open and moveable end, then slide into the machine. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors use MRIs to help diagnose various health problems. Below is a list of common diagnoses that can be made from an MRI. 

  • Brain and spinal cord: aneurysms, eye, and ear disorders, multiple sclerosis, stroke, tumors, traumatic brain injury.
  • Heart and blood vessels: size and function of heart chambers, the extent of damage from heart attacks or heart disease, inflammation or blockages of blood vessels, structural problems of the aorta.
  • Bones and joints: joint abnormalities from trauma or repetitive use, spinal disk abnormalities, bone infections, tumors of the bones and soft tissues.

Another type of MRI is called functional MRI of the brain (fMRI), which examines the brain’s anatomy and functioning. fMRI can identify and assess damage from injury or disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease by viewing the language and movement control centers within the brain. 

What To Expect During an MRI

Since an MRI machine is essentially a large magnet, you will be asked to remove all metal before the scan, including jewelry, metal hair clips, watches, eyeglasses, or hearing aids. You will also be asked to change into a gown if there is any metal on your clothing. 

If your doctor orders an MRI with contrast, your technologist will inject a dye into your vein to improve the MRI images.

During the test, you will lay down on an open and moveable end of the MRI tube, then slide you into the machine. You may wear headphones and a microphone to communicate with the health care professional running your scan.

MRIs are painless and typically last anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour. You are expecting to remain still not to impact the image resolution. Once complete, you may resume your usual activities unless directed by your doctor otherwise.

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The Cost of an MRI by City

The cost of an MRI ranges between $375 to $2,850 if paying without insurance, with an average cost of $1,325. You can expect to pay less for an MRI if you have insurance. Below is the average price range of an MRI across various cities in the United States.

Cost of MRI Without Insurance

LocationMRI Cost Without Insurance
Atlanta, GA$550 - $1,400
Chicago, IL$575 - $1,500
Miami, FL$550 - $1,450
Dallas, TX$500 - $1,300
Los Angeles, CA$460 - $1,200
Houston, TX$525 - $1,400
Phoenix, AZ$525 - $1,350
Philadelphia, PA$575 - $1,500
New York, NY$625 - $1,600
Washington, DC$550 - $1,400

Source: New Choice Health

MRI Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When getting an MRI, you may have some questions. Below we answer some commonly asked questions about MRIs to help you prepare for your procedure. 

Do I need a prescription to get an MRI?

Yes, you will need a prescription or referral from a doctor to get an MRI. The referring physician can articulate why you need to get an MRI done to help direct the radiologists on what to scan for a proper diagnosis. You can get a prescription from a doctor at urgent care or your primary care provider. 

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Do I need insurance to get an MRI?

No, you do not need insurance to get an MRI. Without insurance, you will still need a prescription or referral from a physician and then pay out-of-pocket. If you are paying with insurance, you will need your insurance company to determine whether the MRI is medically necessary. If you have met your deductible and your insurance company deems the scan necessary, they will cover part of the cost. 

What are alternatives to getting an MRI?

Computed tomography, also known as a CAT or CT scan, is one alternative to an MRI. A CT scan may be used for individuals who may not be comfortable inside traditional MRI devices. A CT scan also produces results much faster than an MRI, so they’re often a preferred choice when making a diagnosis in an emergency.

What are the risks of an MRI?

MRI procedures are safe and painless and do not expose patients to radiation. The powerful magnets of an MRI machine and can cause a safety hazard if presented with metal objects either inside or outside your body. Before getting an MRI, you will determine whether you are eligible by answering a brief questionnaire about your medical history. Items that may create a health hazard during the procedure include: 

  • Cardiac pacemakers or implantable defibrillators (ICDs)
  • Vascular clips
  • External or implanted medication pumps
  • Cochlear implants
  • Neurostimulation systems
  • Catheters with metal components
  • Bullets or shrapnel or other fragments
  • Metallic foreign body near or within the eye (more common in metal workers)

If you have any of these objects or devices in your body, you will want to speak with your doctor before getting an MRI. Some types of cardiac pacemakers, cochlear implants, medication pumps, and neurostimulation systems are safe, so it is essential to provide your MRI technologist with information regarding your implants. 

How can I save money on an MRI?

Getting an MRI from an outpatient center instead of an inpatient facility can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The average cost of an MRI at an outpatient center is $650, whereas the average price of an MRI at an inpatient center is $2,250. According to NPR, an MRI from an emergency department costs 33 times more than at a stand-alone imaging clinic.

In addition, you can call multiple outpatient facilities and ask about pricing, as the cost of an MRI can vary significantly depending on the testing site. If paying without insurance, you can also ask your health care provider if they have any special rates they can offer. 

Bottom Line

Urgent care centers typically do not have MRI machines at their facilities. They will likely redirect you to an imaging center if the physician believes an MRI is necessary to help diagnose a medical condition. MRIs can be done at other outpatient centers specifically designed to conduct imaging, such as a radiology center, or at an inpatient facility such as a hospital. Getting an MRI from an outpatient facility is often cheaper than an inpatient center.

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