Are MRI results accurate?

Most physicians and patients think that the MRI scan is one of the more sensitive and comprehensive diagnostic tests.

However, there is significant variability in reading and performing the scans, which makes having it done at a reputable institution more imperative:

Magnetic resonance machines, though, vary enormously, and not just in the strength of their magnets. Even more important, radiologists say, is the quality of the imaging coils they put around the body part being scanned and the computer programs they use to control the imaging and to analyze the images. And there is a huge variability in skill among the technicians doing the scans.

Some are recommending that general radiologists may not be appropriately qualified to read specific MRI scans.

Compounding the problem are two issues. First, MRIs are rapidly sprouting up across the country, because the payment system gives a financial incentive for doctors and hospitals to expand the reach of MRIs.

Next, doctors are increasingly relying on scans instead of the history and physical exam. One major reason is patient demand, as there is a perception that “getting an MRI,” leads to fast, definitive diagnoses.

It doesn’t help that obtaining an MRI is discussed so cavalierly in society, especially in the world of sports, where athletes often receive such scans routinely.

This further perpetuates the routine nature of the test.