Conventional radiography, rapid MR imaging, and conventional MR imaging for low back pain: Activity-based costs and reimbursement

Darryl T. Gray, William Hollingworth, C. Craig Blackmore, Michael A. Alotis, Brook I. Martin, Sean D. Sullivan, Richard A. Deyo, Jeffrey G. Jarvik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: To incorporate personnel and equipment use time in an activity-based cost comparison of conventional radiography and conventional and rapid magnetic resonance (MR) imaging for low back pain (LBP). MATERIALS AND METHODS: At each of four Seattle Lumbar Imaging Project (SLIP) sites, patients were randomized to undergo conventional radiography or rapid MR imaging of the lumbar spine. For sample SLIP patients and for similar non-SLIP patients undergoing conventional lumbar spine MR imaging as usual care in calendar year 2000, measured imaging room use and technologist and radiologist times were multiplied by costs per minute of standard equipment acquisition, personnel compensation, and related expenses. Resulting provider-perspective costs and Seattle area Medicare reimbursements for conventional MR imaging and radiography for calendar year 2001 were used to estimate future "normative" reimbursement for rapid MR imaging. RESULTS: For 23 conventional radiography, 27 rapid MR imaging, and 38 conventional MR imaging examinations timed in calendar year 2000, all rapid MR imaging times exceeded those of conventional radiography but were less than those of conventional MR imaging. All 0.3- and 0.35-T MR imaging room and technologist times exceeded those for 1.5-T MR imaging. Average costs (in 2001 dollars) were $44 for conventional radiography, $126 for 1.5-T rapid MR imaging, $128 for 0.3-0.35-T rapid MR imaging, $267 for 1.5-T conventional MR imaging, and $264 for 0.3-0.35-T conventional MR imaging. Conclusions regarding cost differences between conventional radiography and rapid MR imaging were robust to plausible parameter value changes evaluated in sensitivity analyses. Conventional radiography reimbursement was $44. Applying the ratio of reimbursement ($620) to costs ($264-$267) for conventional MR imaging to rapid MR imaging costs predicted reimbursement of $292-$300 for the new modality. CONCLUSION: Times and costs for rapid MR imaging are roughly three times those for conventional radiography but about half those for conventional MR imaging for LBP. While current conventional radiography costs exceed reimbursement, current conventional MR and projected rapid MR imaging reimbursements exceed costs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)669-680
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2003


  • Cost effectiveness Economics
  • MR
  • Medical Radiology and radiologists
  • Radiography
  • Socioeconomic issues Spine
  • Spine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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