Is There Utility to Requiring Spine MRI Pre-authorizations? Pre-authorizations: A Single Institution’s Perspective : Clinical Spine Surgery

Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Primary Research

Is There Utility to Requiring Spine MRI Pre-authorizations? Pre-authorizations

A Single Institution’s Perspective

Kebaish, Kareem J. MD*,†; Galivanche, Anoop R. MD, MHS; Mercier, Michael R. MD, MHS§; Varthi, Arya G. MD; Rubin, Lee E. MD; Grauer, Jonathan N. MD

Author Information
Clinical Spine Surgery 36(5):p 186-189, June 2023. | DOI: 10.1097/BSD.0000000000001422


Study Design: 

A retrospective cohort study of a patient undergoing treatment at a single institution’s Spine Center.


The current study assessed the rates and eventual disposition of pre-authorizations required before spine MRIs are ordered from an academic spine center.

Summary of Background Data: 

Spine magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) often requires preauthorization by insurance carriers. While there are potential advantages to ensuring consistent indicators for imaging modalities, previous studies have found that such processes can add administrative burdens and barriers to care.


Patients from a single academic institution’s spine center who were covered by commercial insurance and had a spine MRI ordered between January 2013 and December 2019 were identified. The requirement for preauthorization and eventual disposition of each of these studies was tracked. Multivariate logistic regression was used to determine if commercial insurance carriers or anatomic region MRIs were associated with requiring a preauthorization. The eventual disposition of studies associated with this process was tracked.


In total, 2480 MRI requests were identified, of which preauthorization was needed for 2122 (85.56%). Relative to cervical spine scans, preauthorization had greater odds of being required for thoracic (OR=2.71, P=0.003) and lumbar (OR=2.46, P<0.001) scans. Relative to a reference insurer, 4 of the 5 commercial carriers had statistically significant increased odds of requiring preauthorization (OR=1.54–10.17 P<0.050 for each).

Of the imaging studies requiring preauthorization, peer to peer review was required for 204 (9.61%), and 1,747 (82.33% of all requiring preauthorization) were approved. Of 375 (17.67%) initially cancelled or denied by the preauthorization process, 290 (77.33% of those initially cancelled or denied) were completed within 3 months. In total, only 85 were not eventually approved and completed.


Of 2480 distinct MRI orders, commercial insurers required preauthorization for 85.56%. Nonetheless, 96.57% of all scans went on to be completed within 3 months, raising questions about the costs, benefits, and overall value of this administrative process.

Copyright © 2023 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.

You can read the full text of this article if you:

Access through Ovid