What Factors Contribute to CT Scan Cost?

Terrie Brockmann

Computer tomography, or CT, scans are noninvasive diagnostic tests that give a doctor a detailed image. This imaging technology has several uses, including simple screening, diagnostic services, and surgical support. The CT scan cost varies depending on the usage. Many other factors affect the cost of a CT scan, such as staff costs, equipment investment and maintenance, and the materials used. Generally, the fees belong to one of two categories: professional and technical.

Materials used during a CT scan affect cost.
Materials used during a CT scan affect cost.

The professional costs are any expenses incurred by the doctor, radiologist, and other professionals. When determining the professional fees, health care providers factor in financial setbacks, like employees' benefits and other employment costs. In most cases, radiologists read the CT scans and then forward the results to the doctor. All expenses incurred in this process contribute to the professional CT scan cost.

Technical costs of a CT scan is one of two categories of associated costs, along with professional fees.
Technical costs of a CT scan is one of two categories of associated costs, along with professional fees.

The technical CT scan cost varies, but essentially it covers the cost of the equipment, the facility overhead, and other non-professional expenses. CT scanning equipment is expensive to buy and expensive to maintain. Health care providers pass this cost onto the consumer just as other types of business prorate equipment costs and pass the expense onto the customer.

Dyes such as barium sulfate are typically given orally for gastrointestinal CT scans.
Dyes such as barium sulfate are typically given orally for gastrointestinal CT scans.

As with other professions, supply and demand drives prices. This hidden cost may vary depending on other factors, but basically, in areas where more than one facility has CT scan equipment, the price may be lower. Another hidden cost is the health care provider's profit margin. The amount that a facility marks up the price generally depends on that company's profit goal.

The mark-up cost usually varies from region to region. For example, in the U.S., a scan in Chicago, Illinois, may cost more or less than the same type of scan in Portland, Oregon. Typically, the same scan costs different rates at different facilities within the same city. Sometimes this variance is because hospitals tend to charge less than smaller facilities. Typically, a hospital has more staff and more specialized equipment than smaller clinics normally have, which adds to the smaller facility's overhead cost.

The type of CT scan that the patient has affects the CT scan cost. For example, a brain scan price will differ from an abdominal scan's price. If a contrast dye is used, the price increases with the cost of the materials plus the expense of having a technician administer the dye. A screening scan is simpler than a diagnostic scan; therefore, the diagnostic scan price and the radiologist's wage increase the price.

Globally, another factor that has raised the CT scan cost is the fact that doctors in 2010 ordered approximately twice as many CT scans than were ordered in the late 1990s. In this past decade, the increase in the number of scans has followed the economic laws of supply and demand. As the demand increases and the supply stays the same or barely increases, the price usually rises.

The type of CT scan being done can impact the cost.
The type of CT scan being done can impact the cost.

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