Pediatric Outpatient Noncontrast Brain MRI: A Time-Driven Activity-Based Costing Analysis at Three U.S. Hospitals.

Document Type


Publication Date



DOI: 10.2214/AJR.22.28490


BACKGROUND. MRI utilization and the use of sedation or anesthesia for MRI have increased in children. Emerging alternative payment models (APMs) require a detailed understanding of the health system costs of performing these examinations. OBJECTIVE. The purpose of this study was to use time-driven activity-based costing (TDABC) to assess health system costs for outpatient noncontrast brain MRI examinations across three children's hospitals. METHODS. Direct costs for outpatient noncontrast brain MRI examinations at three academic free-standing pediatric hospitals were calculated using TDABC. Examinations were categorized as sedated MRI (i.e., sedation or anesthesia), nonsedated MRI, or limited MRI. Process maps were created to describe patient workflows based on input from key personnel and direct observation. Time durations for each process activity were determined; time stamps from retrospective EMR review were used when possible. Capacity cost rates were calculated for resource types within three cost categories (labor, equipment, and space); cost was calculated in a fourth category (supplies). Resources were allocated to each activity, and the cost of each process step was determined by multiplying step-specific capacity costs by the time required for each step. The costs of all steps were summed to yield a base-case total examination cost. Sensitivity analysis for sedated MRI was performed using minimum and maximum time duration inputs for each activity to yield minimum and maximum costs by hospital. RESULTS. The mean base-case cost for a sedated brain MRI examination was $842 (range, $775-924 across hospitals), for a nonsedated brain MRI examination was $262 (range, $240-285), and for a limited brain MRI examination was $135 (range, $127-141). For all examination types, the largest cost category as well as the largest source of difference in cost between hospitals was labor. Sensitivity analysis found that the greatest influence on overall cost at each hospital was the duration of the MRI acquisition. CONCLUSION. The health system cost of performing a sedated MRI examination was substantially greater than that of performing a nonsedated MRI examination. However, the cost of each individual examination type did not vary substantially among hospitals. CLINICAL IMPACT. Health systems operating within APMs can use this comparative cost information for purposes of cost reduction efforts and establishment of bundled prices.

Journal Title

AJR. American journal of roentgenology





First Page


Last Page


MeSH Keywords

Child; Humans; Retrospective Studies; Outpatients; Health Care Costs; Hospitals; Magnetic Resonance Imaging; Brain


MRI; anesthesia; cost; pediatric; sedation

Library Record