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What Factors Affect the Cost of an Echocardiogram?

Doctor interpretation of test results and patient consultation are main drivers of echocardiography costs.
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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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A number of factors affect the cost of an echocardiogram, but technician fees, consultation and interpretation costs, and outpatient hospital charges are usually the most common. Any medication that a patient needs, including anesthetics and intravenous drugs, also factor in, as does any monitoring required after the procedure. In general, a standard echocardiogram costs less overall than a transesophageal echocardiogram, though neither is inexpensive.

Echocardiograms are medical tests that allow doctors to map the heart using ultrasound technology. The procedure, often known as a cardiac echo, is noninvasive and can usually be performed in about an hour. Nonetheless, the cost of an echocardiogram is quite high in most places. The technology required to perform the test, as well as the education and special skill required to interpret the results, are the main reasons that an echo costs as much as it does.

In order to perform an echocardiogram, doctors must have access to an echocardiography machine. These machines are expensive, and are usually installed only in regional hospitals. They are too expensive for most doctors to keep in their offices.

The first cost of an echocardiogram is, in most cases, the cost of a hospital visit. Even if a patient is only visiting the hospital for a few hours, a stiff fee usually applies. This fee accounts for the usage of a hospital gown, the attention of nurses, any administered medication, follow-up treatments, and access to the machine.

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Specially-trained technicians usually perform the echo. The technician’s fees, as well as the printing fees for any slides, are also included in the cost of the echocardiogram. There are two types of echocardiogram, and the costs associated with each are somewhat different.

In an standard echo, technicians attach exterior probes to the patient’s test, then perform a sonogram or ultrasound of the chest cavity from the outside. With a transesophageal echocardiogram, the ultrasound receiver is placed on the end of a scope that is inserted down the patient’s throat. This procedure gives a more detailed picture of the heart, but is usually only used for patients with serious heart problems or patients for whom a general echo test was inconclusive.

Regardless of which test was performed, technicians pass the echocardiogram results on to cardiac specialists. Specialists typically charge an interpretation or consultation fee, which covers their expertise in both reading and interpreting the results. The cost of an echocardiogram tends to go up the more complex the problem or diagnosis. Any re-scans or further tests that may be needed are usually also billed to the patient.

In many cases, patients’ medical insurance plans will cover some, if not all, of the cost of an echocardiogram. Most plans have limitations on which doctors are covered, as well as which hospitals or clinics can provide services. Echo patients who are hoping to bill their insurance companies for the cost of an echocardiogram would be wise to carefully study their plan material before receiving treatment.

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