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Pay for MRIs out of pocket at South Hall clinic
Dr. Gay: ‘You could finally have control over your health’ with $399 images
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Dr. Brian Gay, CEO and chief medical officer at First Look MRI, left, goes over an MRI scan with Kim Armistead of Coweta County and her daughter Laney on Tuesday in Gainesville. First Look MRI offers MRIs for a flat rate of $399 without the need for insurance or doctor's orders.

In a side venture from his regular practice as a radiologist, Dr. Brian Gay is trying “to bring some sanity to the cost of medicine.”

And he’s taking special aim at MRIs.

It may be one of the best ways to determine what’s going on in your body, but high costs are warding off people from the procedure.

First Look MRI

Where: 1980 Friendship Road, Hoschton

Contact: firstlookmri.com, 470-639-1262

Also: For more information about Embracing Life, visit embracinglifefund.org.

That’s why Gay opened First Look MRI at 1980 Friendship Road in South Hall.

“I see (First Look MRI) as something of a community service,” he said. “I want to help people who don’t have insurance or high deductibles.”

The procedure at First Look costs $399, compared to up to $2,000 at the hospital, and doesn’t require a doctor’s order; patients can walk in or simply make an online appointment. The $399 includes Gay’s reading, which he provides in a narrated video emailed to patients.

“The reading fee (through a hospital MRI) can be as much as our (total cost),” he said.

Plus, MRIs, while covered by insurance, often require patients to pay costs out of pocket.

“As health care has changed, there is new pressure and people can’t afford to get scanned anymore because their deductibles are so high,” Gay said.

“Because it’s cash only and no insurance (is involved), we can keep the cost down,” Gay said.

One hitch — and it’s something Gay is working on — is that costs at his office can’t be applied to insurance deductibles, as would be the case if the procedure were done with insurance approval at a hospital.

Another attraction for patients, especially those who suffer from claustrophobia, may be that First Look offers an imaging machine has more open space than the conventional “tube-like” device. The trade-off is that the imaging isn’t as strong as a “closed” MRI.

Gay believes his business also will help draw patients who want answers quickly.

“You could skip the doctor altogether if you know you don’t have a surgical problem,” he said. “It’s a whole new thing we’re offering. It empowers the patient to find out information.

“You could finally have control over your health.”

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First Look MRI in South Hall offers MRIs for a flat rate of $399 without the need for insurance or doctor's orders. - photo by David Barnes
For many patients, First Look provides a shortcut to getting relief. Usual steps might involve a visit to a primary doctor, then a specialist, and physical therapy might be recommended before an MRI, Gay said.

“Then, if you’re still in pain after that, they’ll do the scan,” he said.

The thing is, not only is the scan expensive for patients, it’s costly for insurance companies.

“They don’t want to do it,” Gay said. “That’s why they put all these barriers up.”

“And as a patient, you’re stuck. If I want to go buy a lawn mower, I’d buy a lawn mower. If I want to buy a drone for my son, I could do that. But you can’t buy (medical) information.”

He said many patients discover First Look by doing online searches. That was the case with Kim Armistead, who drove from Coweta County with her 14-year-old daughter, Laney, who was injured in a softball game.

She said she got an estimate for an MRI costing $1,800, if she went through insurance.

“It was ridiculous,” Armistead said. “That’s a lot of money to come up with.”

But something needed to be done, as Laney’s “dream is to play college softball,” Armistead said. “If she has a (muscle) tear or something, we need to know.”

Part of the proceeds from First Look MRI go to a program Gay has started to provide a dream trip to people diagnosed with cancer, a sort of Make A Wish Foundation for adults.

Embracing Life Project was inspired by several important people in his life, including relatives, dying from the disease.

“A lot of times, when you’re battling cancer, that’s all you think about,” Gay said. “This is a way to think about positive things. And when you go on the trip, it’s exciting because you can leave your troubles behind.”

Embracing Life chooses one patient per month “to go wherever they want to go,” he said. “We try to keep (trips) down to a reasonable cost, so we can send more people.”