Medmos Guide to Healthcare Terms 1

Medmo’s Guide to Healthcare Terms

You shouldn’t need a medical degree to understand your medical imaging. Learn the difference between MRI, CT scan, and more.

CT/CAT Scan 


A CT scan, also known as a CAT scan, provides detailed pictures of your internal organs, muscles, and bones. CT is an abbreviation for Computed Tomography and CAT is an abbreviation for Computed Axial Tomography. Doctors use CT scans to diagnose diseases and to monitor the effectiveness of treatments. CT scans are performed in hospitals, outpatient imaging centers, or medical offices. CT scans can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. 

MRI


MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a type of medical imaging technology that provides detailed pictures of your organs, muscles, and bones. An MRI can examine any part of the body. Most often, doctors order MRIs to check the following areas:

  • Brain, for signs of a stroke or tumor, or to monitor diseases like multiple sclerosis
  • Back and spinal cord, for causes of severe back pain like herniated (slipped) discs or arthritis
  • Large joints (like the shoulder and knee), for injuries to bones, muscles, and ligaments that could explain pain or weakness
  • Breasts, to diagnose or monitor tumors when mammogram and ultrasound are inconclusive
  • Liver, for tumors and causes of jaundice (yellow skin), like blocked bile ducts
  • Heart, for structural abnormalities, like valve disease, and dysfunction of the pumping chambers (ventricles)

Most MRI machines require the patient to lie down on a bed. The technologist will place an additional device, known as a coil, around the part of your body being scanned.

During your scan, the bed is positioned in an imaging tube. If your head or leg is being scanned, most of your body will be outside the tube. In other cases, most of your body will be inside the tube. An MRI usually takes 30-45 minutes.

Ultrasound

An ultrasound uses sound waves to examine the structure and function of your organs. An ultrasound transducer (wand) emits high-frequency sound waves, which are reflected back by your organs. A computer creates pictures by measuring the time required for the soundwaves to return, as well as the strength of the reflections. Ultrasounds can be performed in hospitals, outpatient imaging centers, or doctor’s offices. They can reveal tumors, cysts, blocked ducts, injuries, and other problems. Most ultrasound scans last between 15 and 45 minutes. 


An ultrasound uses sound waves to examine the structure and function of your organs. An ultrasound transducer (wand) emits high-frequency sound waves, which are reflected back by your organs. A computer creates pictures by measuring the time required for the soundwaves to return, as well as the strength of the reflections. Ultrasounds can be performed in hospitals, outpatient imaging centers, or doctor’s offices. They can reveal tumors, cysts, blocked ducts, injuries, and other problems. Most ultrasound scans last between 15 and 45 minutes. 

DEXA

Bone density scans, dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DEXA scans, help to work out your risk of breaking a bone. They’re often used to help diagnose bone-related health problems, such as osteoporosis, or to assess the risk of getting them. Total body bone density scans can also be used to measure the amount of bone, fat, and muscle in the body. This type of scan is commonly used in children. DEXA scans typically take between 10 to 20 minutes. 

Mammogram

A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast. Doctors use a mammogram to look for early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt. Mammograms are performed by placing individual breasts on a plastic plate while another plate firmly presses down the breast from above. The plates will flatten the breast, holding it still while the X-ray is being taken. The steps are repeated to make a side view of the breast. The mammogram itself takes about 10 to 15 minutes with the images being provided to you almost immediately after. 

PET Scan

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that allows your doctor to check for diseases in your body. The scan uses a special dye containing radioactive tracers. These tracers are either swallowed, inhaled, or injected into a vein in your arm depending on what part of the body is being examined. When detected by a PET scanner, the tracers help your doctor to see how well your organs and tissues are working. It will collect in areas of higher chemical activity, which is helpful because certain tissues of the body, and certain diseases, have a higher level of chemical activity. These areas of the case will show up as bright spots on the PET scan. The PET scan can measure blood flow, oxygen use, how your body uses sugar, and much more. A PET scan is typically an outpatient procedure. This means you can go about your day after the test is finished. PET scans take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.

X-Ray

The most commonly known about medical imaging, x-rays or x-radiation, are a type of radiation called electromagnetic waves. X-ray imaging creates pictures of the inside of your body. The images show the parts of your body in different shades of black and white. This is because different tissues absorb different amounts of radiation. Calcium in bones absorbs x-rays the most, so bones look white. Fat and other soft tissues absorb less and look gray. The most familiar use of x-rays is checking for fractures (broken bones), but x-rays are also used in other ways. For example, chest x-rays can spot pneumonia. Mammograms use x-rays to look for breast cancer.

Coinsurance: Some health plans are structured so that you pay a percent of your health care bill even after hitting your deductible, often ranging from 10 to 50 percent. This amount is pre-specified by your individual health plan.

Copayment: This is a fixed amount ($20, for example) you pay for a covered health care service after you’ve paid your deductible. Let’s say your health insurance plan’s allowable cost for a doctor’s office visit is $100. Your copayment for a doctor’s visit is $20. If you’ve paid your deductible: You pay $20, usually at the time of the visit. If you haven’t met your deductible: You pay $100, the full allowable amount for the visit.

Deductible: This is the amount that you are required to pay out of pocket before your insurance covers the remaining costs. For example, if you have a $500 deductible, and you have $1,200 in medical expenses for the year, you’ll have to pay the first $500, and your insurance will cover the remaining $700.

Out-of-pocket expenses: These are healthcare services that are not billed to insurance and require payment at the time of service. 

Out-of-pocket maximum: This is the maximum amount you will have to pay for services covered by your health insurance in a plan year. Once you’ve reached this amount, you won’t pay any additional copayments, coinsurance, or other fees on covered benefits.

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