Do You Need a Doctor’s Referral for an MRI Scan?

For your safety and to ensure you are properly treated, a referral or prescription for a doctor is required for all exams.

Here’s what you need to know.

Say you have an ache in your knee, but you just switched insurance plans and you don’t have a primary care physician set up yet. You don’t want to wait three months for your first appointment with a new doctor. Can you simply call a diagnostic imaging facility and go get an MRI scan yourself?

The short answer is no. facilities require a referral from a doctor however you have choices where you can obtain an RX in less than 24 hours for around $30.


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The longer answer, this being health care, is a bit more complicated.

When You Need a Doctor’s Order for MRI or Other Imaging

Essentially, if an imaging procedure will expose you to any amount of radiation, or if it requires a contrast agent, you’ll have to go through your doctor. That means a doctor’s referral is necessary before a patient can undergo the following scans:

  • X-ray
  • Arthrogram
  • CT Scan
  • PET Scan
  • Mammogram
  • MRI with Contrast
  • MRI with and without Contrast

A quick word about the last procedure on this list, because it’s confusing at first glance; how can a procedure both include and omit the contrast agent?

An MRI with and without contrast actually consists of two back-to-back scans. (The more accurate term would really be “MRI without and with contrast.”)

Technicians first obtain images of the body without a contrast agent, then they introduce the dye and take a second scan. This gives radiologists a greater level of detail that they can use in their reports.

Why Patients Need a Doctor’s Order for Most Diagnostic Imaging

It’s a good thing that the law requires an expert to request an X-ray. Any procedure that exposes the body to ionizing radiation carries a slight risk. As radiation levels build in the body throughout a lifetime, the risk can increase.

Doctors determine when the risk of skipping an imaging procedure outweighs the risk of exposure to radiation. That’s not a decision that should be left in amateur hands.

Concerns about contrast dyes are similar. While gadolinium-based contrast media are generally safe, patients who have liver disease face greater risks when exposed to this substance. Your doctor must determine whether the use of a contrast agent is safe based on your personal health history.

MRI Scans without a Doctor’s Referral


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Even though a standard MRI without contrast has no side effects and no radiation, facilities still require a doctor’s order. Given the low costs of an MRI through our facilities, many patients are taking their care into their own hands and scheduling MRI scans before they even speak to their primary care physicians.

Ultimately, you are in control of your own health, and speaking to a wide variety of specialists, including radiologists, can uncover health threats that doctors miss in a standard physical.

Why do we require a  doctor’s referral?  A doctor needs to gather your medical history and determine what type of scan is appropriate for you as well as follow up with you after the procedure to go over the results..  Ultimately you can cause yourself undue concern and stress when you gather medical data without understanding it. A lesion on your liver might be completely benign, but you need a trained professional to determine that.

It’s smart to obtain medical data, but medical information is something else entirely. Only trained health care professionals should try to diagnose a condition or order a follow-up exam. Keep that in mind if you choose to get an MRI without the advice of your doctor.

Call at 888-322-7785 to learn more.

3 thoughts on “Do You Need a Doctor’s Referral for an MRI Scan?”

  1. Hi I am would like to know how long should I wait to get a brain mri I get headaches every day

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