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| 1 minute read

Even as questions remain, whole body MRI screening studies grow in popularity

Despite the stated reservations of notable health care societies, the use of preventive scans, like whole body MRI, are becoming increasingly popular among affluent patients. A population of wealthy individuals show a willingness to pay the out-of-pocket costs in order to rule out --  or to detect as early as possible -- potentially life-threatening abnormalities. There is also widespread skepticism about these studies.

Recent articles in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal document the growing popularity of MRI screening. These screening scans are typically not covered by Medicare or any insurance company. Despite such non-coverage, the demand for these screening studies is growing.

Proponents of screening MRI scanning are critical of relying only on diagnostic MRI since diagnostic tests are ordered only to investigate a patient's signs or symptoms that warrant the performance of the studies. They contend that diagnostic studies find significant abnormalities too late and are slow to produce since more time is needed produce diagnostic quality images, making diagnostic MRI scans unhelpful to early detection. In addition, such tests are expensive.

Whole body scanning has a buzz, driven in part by endorsements from high-level celebrities, including Oprah, Kim Kardashian, Chamath Palihapitiya, Paris Hilton and Kevin Rose. 

Despite the growing popularity of these screening studies of asymptomatic patients, serious reservations about their effectiveness comes from mainstream medical organizations, including the American College of Radiology (ACR). A statement from ACR warns that there is not "sufficient evidence to justify recommending total body screening for patients with no clinical symptoms, risk factors or a family history suggesting underlying disease or serious injury."  ACR says these scans "will lead to the identification of numerous non-specific findings that will not ultimately improve patients' health but will result in unnecessary follow-up testing and procedures, as well as significant expense."

A factor that may tilt the scale toward greater acceptance of screening asymptomatic patients is the application of AI software to increase the speed of the MRI whole body scans and thereby dramatically reduce the cost of these screening studies. Currently the cost of the scans can be several thousand dollars.

As the growing frequency of these whole body scans grow, this is a trend that diagnostic radiology groups will want to monitor closely to decide if they should offer these services, if they determine they are efficacious.

No major medical establishment has said the full body MRI is an appropriate solution. Imaging tests sometimes lead to harmless findings known as 'incidentalomas.' The process can take patients on an anxiety-ridden merry-go-round of follow-up testing and potentially complicated procedures, which carry their own risks.


diagnostic radiology, mri whole body scans, health care & life sciences