Cardiac Stress Tests Difficult to Price Out

A reader named Deb recently wrote to HelpWithMedicalCosts.com, saying she needed a cardiac stress test which she described as “just a regular treadmill thing.”

Deb has no health insurance, and had the option of having the stress test at her doctor’s office for $295, with a 20 percent discount if she paid at the time of service. Deb wanted to know if HelpWithMedicalCosts.com could find a better price.

The answer is no, we couldn’t find a better price at the providers we checked.

Having said that, it’s difficult to compare prices for cardiac stress tests because there are so many variations on this test. Dr. Pennie Marchetti, of the board of the Summit County Medical Society, helped clarify the different kinds of stress tests your doctor may order. According to Dr. Marchetti, the simplest and most basic is an exercise treadmill electrocardiogram, and it just involves running on a treadmill while having an EKG performed. That is the test that Deb described, and is often performed at a doctor’s office.

The next step up is the addition of an imaging procedure to the treadmill test, which still involves running on a treadmill. This should not be confused with an echocardiogram stress test, which is yet a different test.

In cases where there is a nuclear scan to image the heart, this is called a cardiolite stress test. Cardiolite refers to the radioactive contrast that is injected into the patient for the scan. There are other types of nuclear scans as well.

To complicate things further, it’s possible to conduct a stress tests that don’t involve running on a treadmill, but instead require an intravenous injection to make a patient’s heart rate go up without exercise. These are usually called chemical stress tests. They can include all of the imaging and EKG permutations noted above.

These non-treadmill tests tend to be more expensive because the medication injection carries a risk and has to be monitored closely. The nuclear scans are likely to be more expensive as well. Not only is there the expense of the injection and the scanner, but there are also radiology fees to interpret the nuclear image, in addition to a cardiologist’s fee to interpret the EKG/echocardiogram portion.

Adding further to the confusion, doctors and hospitals often use different terms to describe the same tests.

In terms of price checking, published hospital price lists often do not include pricing on stress tests – likely for the reasons just explained.

Of the Akron area hospitals, Summa City/St. Thomas campus offers a published price of $1,279 for a Nuclear Medicine “EKG Treadmill” stress test.

This gives you an idea of what to expect, depending on the type of stress test you need. In the case of our reader Deb, she decided on the minimal stress test that her doctor ordered – and she took the pricing her doctor offered.

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Because healthcare information changes rapidly, you should always verify information with your providers.