Diagnostic imaging and clinical laboratory fees can be exorbitant when delivered by insurance-based or hospital-affiliated providers. A physician may recommend a particular lab or imaging center, but where you schedule the appointment is entirely up to you. Opting to use a private pay lab or imaging center often results in significant savings. While there are some national self-pay providers of lab services, imaging centers that use this payment method tend to be specific to a city or region.

A Caregiver’s Experience Seeking Out Affordable Alternatives

During my late husband’s long battle with cancer, I was never offered an option other than the hospital system’s imaging center and laboratory that his doctor favored. When he needed a chest CT scan that was estimated to cost $980 at the hospital—a hefty price tag that we couldn’t afford—I decided to explore our other options.

I did a quick web search and found a great private pay imaging center close to home. The scan, which used state-of-the-art minimal radiation equipment, cost us only $150. This price included a review of the results by a board certified radiologist, and I was able to forward the results to my husband’s doctor. The review alone probably would have cost an additional $350 at the hospital center. Thanks to my resourcefulness and determination, I was able to get my late husband the scan he needed, and we paid around 83 percent less with no compromise in quality.

If you’re struggling to find ways to pay for medical tests, a quick web search should point you to providers in your area. I used the search term “affordable private pay medical imaging (or clinical lab) options” with good results. Variations on that query also worked well for us throughout the course of my husband’s illness. In addition to cheaper prices and flexible payment types, some of these providers may also offer financing options.

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Self-Pay Laboratory Tests and Services

Typically, pricing at private pay labs is based on a large volume at the national level and kept low by not accepting any form of health insurance. However, patients with high co-pays may be able to submit their bills to their insurers for reimbursement.

Depending on the lab, an order is usually placed online or by phone, and payment is expected up front. There are also walk-in labs that handle providing the doctor’s order for a specific test as well, using their own network of in-state physicians. The patient will be directed to a local lab where the specimen will be collected and tested. Most results are available with 24 to 36 hours, however, some tests can take between one and two weeks. Results will be sent to the patient and/or the designated healthcare provider.

Providers such as DirectLabs, Request A Test and Accu Reference have locations either nationwide or in multiple states. It is likely that there are additional options near you that operate on a local or regional scale as well. Patients can opt to use self-pay labs for blood testing, urinalysis (urine testing), sputum cultures (to diagnosis illnesses like pneumonia), and many other kinds of tests of tissues and bodily fluids that can help detect causes of illness.

Private Pay Diagnostic Imaging Centers

Imaging centers also tend to keep prices low by not accepting any form of insurance. While many labs do not require a doctor’s order or referral, this is not the case for imaging. The imaging center you select will provide a fax number that physicians can use to send their orders for services like MRIs, X-rays, PET scans, ultrasounds and ECGs (EKGs). During your search, be sure to check that any potential providers are accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR).

Do Your Research

It may seem odd to research and price shop for medical services the way you would before making a big purchase like a new car or household appliance, but it’s the best way to learn about all options for testing, services and treatment. As a caregiver and a patient yourself, it’s your job to be proactive about your loved one’s health and finances as well as your own. If you have any questions about costs and alternative options, don’t hesitate to speak with the doctor and their billing department or to seek out advice and recommendations from friends, family and colleagues.