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Imaging quality may be similar, but hospitals are better equipped for the occasional life-threatening emergencies that will occur Contact Now

Are freestanding outpatient imaging centers as safe as hospitals for MRI or CT scans?

Imaging quality may be similar, but hospitals are better equipped for the occasional life-threatening emergencies that will occur

Independent, outpatient, and ambulatory radiology/imaging centers offer an alternative to having an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan performed in a hospital setting. These types of facilities often advertise like a realtor—location, location, location. Outpatient imaging centers are all over the place and are certainly convenient for many patients.

Plus, there’s the cost issue. This has become a big bone of contention between health insurance companies and hospitals, which charge more for the same scans than do freestanding imaging facilities. In fact, some health insurance companies have begun rejecting diagnostic imaging claims from hospitals, in an effort to push injured patients to less expensive freestanding imaging facilities.

Have you ever wondered if cost and convenience are the only two differences between having a diagnostic radiology scan done at a freestanding facility rather than a hospital?

Medical professionals generally agree that the technical quality of most scans and the interpretation of them by radiologists at freestanding facilities are on par with the quality of service offered at hospitals.

When it comes to safety, though, that’s a whole different issue.

While most radiology scans are performed without any problem, when contrast is involved the risk is not negligible. Contrast is a liquid that patients are sometimes asked to swallow, and other times that is injected, to make some radiology images clearer to interpret. The doctor ordering the scan will specify whether it’s to be “with contrast” or “without contrast.”

I’ve written about the risks of barium contrast for patients with recent abdominal surgery and anaphylactic reactions to contrast media that are sometimes used with CT scans and MRI scans.

We’ve been working on a wrongful death medical malpractice case where a patient died after having a bad reaction to the contrast medium he was asked to swallow before a CT scan. Unfortunately, the Texas freestanding imaging center where he had the CT scan performed was woefully unprepared for this known complication.

As part of our review of the case, we spoke with a board-certified radiologist and asked some questions about the difference in safety between an independent imaging facility at a hospital and a freestanding imaging center when it comes to handling complications. What he explained was eye-opening:

• In Texas, most freestanding imaging centers operate with only one physician on site, a radiologist. Hospitals, on the other hand, have emergency room personnel, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare professionals ready to respond to the critical situation.

• Most radiologists don’t typically have face-to-face interactions with patients and aren’t certified in even Basic Life Support (BLS) or Advance Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), which are helpful in handling emergency situations. Most hospitals require all nurses and clinical physicians to have, at a minimum, active BLS certification.

The bottom line? It’s true that life-threatening emergencies involving diagnostic radiology scans are rare. It’s also true that patients are more likely to survive these incidents if they are in the hospital when they occur.

If you’ve experienced severe injury or the death of a loved one because of a complication of a radiology study, then contact a top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.


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