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Private MRIs: Kim Kardashian, Eugenie Bouchard hop on the craze — but is it necessary?

Yahoo Canada spoke to Dr. David Urbach about the potential risks surrounding private MRIs.

Canadian tennis star Genie Bouchard and U.S. reality star Kim Kardashian are among many celebs who have taken up the private MRI trend. (Instagram/@geniebouchard, @kimkardashian)
Canadian tennis star Genie Bouchard and U.S. reality star Kim Kardashian are among many celebs who have taken up the private MRI trend. (Instagram/@geniebouchard, @kimkardashian)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Kim Kardashian and Eugenie Bouchard are the latest celebrities to share getting a private MRI — a service now becoming available in Canada too.

In June, Canadian tennis star Bouchard made a sponsored Instagram post for an MRI clinic in the U.S. In the video, she filmed herself putting on scrubs while getting ready to enter the machine.

"Checking my physical health for my mental health. I believe being proactive with our health is the best thing we can do for ourselves," she began in the caption.

"That’s why last week, I did a full body MRI scan with [Prenuvo]. Their technology is amazing and the process was so easy! I encourage everyone to look after themselves with preventative health care," Bouchard concluded.

In the comments, some people commended the athlete for posting about her experience. However, the majority of Instagram users raised a series of concerns about the procedure, including the cost, the repercussions on the healthcare system, and if it was even safe to do.

Another public figure who recently went viral for her private MRI is U.S. reality star Kim Kardashian.

Like Bouchard, her MRI took place at Prenuvo, a company that provides preventative MRI scans to screen for diseases and early-stage cancer.

"I recently did this [Prenuvo] scan and had to tell you all about this life saving machine," Kardashian captioned the post. "It was like getting a MRI for an hour with no radiation. It has really saved some of my friends lives and I just wanted to share."

Many criticized the cost of private optional check-ups as inflation rates hit record-highs.

"Unfortunately us regular people can’t afford this type of preventative care. Most insurances won’t cover this," one person commented on Kardashian's post.

The first Prenuvo clinic opened in Canada in 2009, and another is set to open in Toronto by the end of the year.

But, are these MRIs necessary, and do they have any risks?

Read on for everything you need to know about the safety and costs of private MRIs in Canada.

What is a private MRI?

Yahoo Canada spoke with general surgeon Dr. David Urbach from Women's College Hospital in Toronto, Ont.

He explained that an MRI — which stands for magnetic resonance imaging — is a type of diagnostic imaging scan in the same family as X-Rays, Ultrasounds and CT scans.

"It's a type of scan that doesn't use radiation and gives very high resolution images, especially for soft tissues. So it can give a lot of information on what things look like on the inside of a person," he said.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of diagnostic imaging scan in the same family as X-Rays, Ultrasounds and CT scans. (Getty)
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of diagnostic imaging scan in the same family as X-Rays, Ultrasounds and CT scans. (Getty)

In Canada, MRIs are typically done inside a public hospital setting, funded under the provincial health insurance plan, and are for medical reasons suggested by a healthcare professional.

According to Urbach, private MRIs — sometimes referred to as preventative MRIs — "are not medically necessary for any purpose."

Private MRIs are delivered in a private facility and are run like a business. People usually pay to undergo a full-body MRI to check for potential health issues before they may happen, he explained.

There is no evidence at all that these types of MRI scans in healthy people without symptoms have any benefits at all.Dr. David Urbach

How much does a private MRI cost in Canada?

If you were referred for an MRI for a medically necessary reason, you would not be required to pay as part of the public healthcare system in Canada.

However, if you choose to have a private MRI for curiosity or preventative reasons, you will have to pay for the scan at a private clinic — and it can be pricy.

For example, The Emerald Centre in Mississauga, Ont., provides full-body MRI services for a whopping $2950 CAD.

Should I get a private MRI?

According to Urbach, there are a variety of reasons why someone might get a private MRI.

Firstly, he thinks celebrities get this scan to promote the clinic's business.

"The clinics need business, because they're for profit businesses, so they need customers. An easy way to do that is using influential people who can amplify it on social media to improve the business prospects," he said. "It's a really popular thing for clinics and influencers to do."

Additionally, the surgeon explained sometimes private MRIs are sold as preventative, to catch health issues before they get serious.

Doctor analyzing patients brain scan on screen. The expert says MRIs don't always pick up everything people might want to search for. (Getty)
The expert says MRIs don't always pick up everything people might want to search for. (Getty)

However, Urbach wants people to know that just because it seems beneficial, it doesn't mean it actually is.

"There is no evidence at all that these types of MRI scans in healthy people without symptoms have any benefits at all. Sometimes MRIs don't even pick up everything people might want to search for," he revealed.

If you're otherwise healthy without symptoms, Urbach said "people shouldn't be going to these clinics."

Instead, if you have symptoms or are concerned about a potential health issue, speak to your doctor or a healthcare professional instead.

What are the risks of a private MRI?

"There's a number of ways that it's actually harmful for people to have these tests," said Urbach.

Firstly, he explained a normal MRI doesn't rule out all problems. If you receive a "normal" result from one of these scans, it doesn't mean that you're not at risk for certain conditions, or that you shouldn't get other types of screening.

"There is a risk of false reassurance because MRIs are not designed to detect every type of abnormality and average people may not know which things that MRI is good for," he said.

There is a risk of false reassurance because MRIs are not designed to detect every type of abnormality.Dr. David Urbach

On the other hand, there is the possibility abnormalities will show up on the scan, which can lead to anxiety, cost for the patient and the healthcare system, and additional interventions that may not be necessary.

"There's also a very high chance of finding abnormal findings that are not at all significant, that if nobody ever detected them, it would make no difference in their life. But it may lead to additional testing, and possibly additional procedures like surgeries that do add risk to them," he explained.

"So overall, it's a net harm for a typically healthy person to get one of these scans."

Mid adult doctor talking with female patient at desk. Mid adult woman is consulting with healthcare worker. They are in hospital.
If you're concerned about your health, speak to your doctor or a healthcare professional, the expert advised. (Photo via Getty Images)

How do private MRIs impact the Canadian healthcare system?

An additional downside of private MRIs is the impact on the Canadian healthcare system.

If an abnormality is detected on a person's scan, the patient would typically seek further testing from their doctor or at a hospital.

This testing — which may not be necessary in the first place — puts strain on the system in terms of funding, staffing and high wait times for patients who might actually need the scans.

"The public health system is supported by primarily by tax dollars, and there are limited resources. Abnormalities lead to additional tests to prove it is insignificant, which increases the amount of scans altogether," Urbach said. "And resources are not infinite."

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