How Long Should You Wait for Your MRI or CT Scan Results?

How Long Should You Wait for Your MRI or CT Scan Results? | blog article by Catalina Imaging

While several factors affect how long you should wait for your MRI or CT scan and the results of these imaging tests, your “priority level” has the most influence. For instance, patients in an emergency situation are not included on the waiting list and can expect to undergo the procedure and receive their results within just a few hours. 


For non-emergencies, the waiting period varies significantly–one day, within a week, or a few months–because radiologists consider some key factors. 

  • Your symptoms and medical history 
  • The complexity of your medical examination (Do you need multiple tests so your doctors can make a comparison?)
  • The transmission between practice to doctor (Even if the radiologists complete the scans within 24 hours, sometimes patients may have to wait longer for their doctors to interpret the results.)


How Long Should You Wait for Your MRI or CT Scan Results?


Turnaround Time: How Long Is Too Long?

Studies have shown that delay in delivering scan results causes the vast majority of patients to experience anxiety, as they interpret it as “bad news.” Thus, leading medical imaging service Catalina Imaging offers Mobile CT units that can travel to hospitals or any convenient sites. 

The company’s Mobile CT Scanners have a spacious changing room and top-notch imaging technologies for quick and accurate scanning. 

Usually, the scans are given to the patients on a disc after the imaging diagnostic exam is complete. However, the turnaround time for their analysis depends on the availability of the radiologists who read the results and the doctors who interpret them. 


In a 2017 report involving around 200 patients, the vast majority wanted their results in one to three days and would call their doctors between one and five days if they had not received news about them. 

For patients who had an MRI or CT scan to check for pneumonia, brain tumor, and cancer treatment, they said they expected results within a day, while those who required it as part of their routine screening and had it to identify the cause of chest pain, they expected results three days and two days, respectively.  


How the Medical Industry Is Dealing with the Backlogs 

With some states still struggling with the increasing number of coronavirus patients, some hospitals have a high volume of results that need to be analyzed and processed. To cope with the backlogs, they prioritize patients who need rapid imaging tests, i.e., those who had been in an accident, had a stroke, or any emergency situation requiring swift medical attention. 


What You Can Do to Reduce Your Waiting Time

While you have no control over some external factors (such as the availability of your provider), there are ways that may help you reduce your wait time. 

  • Opt for a mobile MRI or CT scanner, which is particularly useful when there is a sudden increase in the demand for imaging. 
  • Tell your doctor or the radiology department to call you if there is a last-minute opening on their “cancellation list.”
  • Inform your provider that you are willing to travel to an imaging center with a quicker turnaround time. 
  • Tell your provider that you are willing to go for an appointment in an “ungodly” hour. (Remember, some imaging centers operate 24/7.)
  • Follow your doctor’s food/water intake instructions before your MRI or CT scan to avoid having your test rescheduled. 

The Difference Between CT and MRI

CT vs. MRI: What to Use and Why | blog article by Catalina Imaging

CT vs. MRI: What to Use and Why

While CT and MRI are both medical imaging tools, they use different methods to produce pictures. A CT scan is ideal for larger areas, whereas MRI is better for tissue examination thanks to its more detailed images.


CT vs. MRI: What to Use and Why

How CT Scan Works

CT scans work by taking multiple X-ray images at different angles to create a three-dimensional representation of an internal organ. With a computer, the X-rays are synthesized to form a 3D model of an organ system.

How MRI Scan Works

MRI uses radio waves and magnetic fields to form a detailed image of the bones and soft tissues, providing more thorough imaging than CT scans. 

Which Method Works Best? 

Multiple factors come into play to determine which imaging procedure is ideal and which one should be avoided due to the risk of complications. 

  • Patients who are pregnant should avoid CT scans due to the risk of side effects to their unborn child. 
  • Doctors who need more detailed images recommend MRI. 
  • The type of disease the patient has determines which imaging tool is better. 
  • The medical reason for the imaging determines whether MRI or CT is a better choice. For instance, gunshot and shrapnel victims are advised against having MRI due to the risk of injury, especially if their wound is near or at a sensitive area. 
  • Patients who have claustrophobia may not tolerate the standard MRI scans that use a capsule-shape bed. A possible alternative is the open upright version, although its magnet is not as strong as the traditional MRIs.   
  • Patients with some types of metal implants cannot have MRI scans due to the risk of injury. RF magnetic field can heat up pacemakers and long wires and cause magnetic metals such as intracranial aneurysm clips and some contraceptive devices to react. 

People with cochlear implants, implanted drug infusion pumps, bone-growth stimulators, and some types of prosthetic devices are advised against having MRI scans. However, common dental implants such as Titanium, titanium alloy, and zirconia are safe for MRIs. 

CT and MRI Scans: Detecting Diseases and Medical Conditions 

Both CT and MRI scans can see bones, bone structures, and soft tissues, making them useful in diagnosing a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. But in terms of accuracy, MRI provides more detailed imaging, especially of the soft tissue. 

“Minute” soft tissue injuries like a herniated disc–which CT scans may not be able to detect–are also best diagnosed with MRI scan thanks to its more detailed imaging capabilities. 

Assuming that the patient has no implant or condition that is contraindicated with RF magnetic field, both CT and MRI scans are useful in diagnosing the following diseases and medical conditions: 

  • Head and facial trauma 
  • Ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke
  • Unexplained pain in a certain body area
  • Internal organs such as the bladder, pancreas, stomach, colon, small intestine, uterus, ovary, etc. 
  • Traumatic injuries to the bones 
  • Lumps or tumors
  • Cancer growth 

While CT and MRI scans are both used in cancer diagnosis because they can show tumors or “masses,” they are not a definitive tool. They are mainly used to detect which site is the best to collect a tissue sample for biopsy. 

Once the biopsy has determined that the tumors are cancerous, both imaging techniques remain useful in identifying where the malignant cells have spread or metastasized in the body.

Situations Where CT Scan Is Better 

In emergency situations like stroke, CT scans are a more helpful diagnostic tool than MRIs because they can rapidly scan the brain to identify the underlying cause of stroke (hemorrhagic vs. ischemic). 

MRI scans, meanwhile, are best reserved for non-emergency situations. 

Another issue with MRI is the cost barrier. In general, it costs twice as much as a CT scan, especially if it requires the use of a contrast dye (the average cost of CT is $1,200 versus $2,000 for MRIs). 

CT vs. MRI: What to Use and Why

Final Words 

While MRI and CT scans are great diagnostic imaging tools, MRIs are better in terms of image accuracy and quality. However, people with certain metal implants, gunshot victims, and emergency situations are best diagnosed with CT.