Edward-Elmhurst invests $7 million in chain of stand-alone MRI centers

Edward-Elmhurst Health has invested $7 million in a small chain of stand-alone imaging centers, as the Naperville-based hospital owner continues to diversify into more consumer-driven retail operations.

Smart Choice MRI, based in Mequon, Wis., will use the money to open five more imaging centers in the Chicago area, beginning in the fall with Bolingbrook, Lombard and Oswego, the private, for-profit company said Monday.

Magnetic resonance imaging is a common health care service, but costs can vary widely depending on the body part being scanned and where the procedure is performed. In the Chicago area, the cost of an MRI scan of the knee without dye can range from $466 to $845, according to Guroo.com, which calculates estimates based on millions of insurance claims.

Smart Choice promotes MRIs for $600 or less.

Smart Choice expanded into the Chicago region earlier this year with clinics in Schaumburg, Glenview and Skokie. It plans to open a fourth on the North Side of Chicago in July.

Edward-Elmhurst, like many nonprofit hospitals in Illinois, is moving quickly to establish footholds beyond the hospital setting. In the western suburbs, Edward-Elmhurst has a dozen walk-in clinics, where no appointments are necessary, that treat minor injuries and illnesses such as coughs, earaches and flu symptoms. It also has a handful of "urgent care" centers for emergency services, for situations such as broken bones and high fevers.

Hospital chains also are forming partnerships with pharmacies, skilled nursing centers and ambulatory surgery centers. The goals often include improved care coordination and referrals.

For its investment, Edward-Elmhurst will have one seat on Smart Choice's board.

"This new partnership is in line with our mission to always advance the health of our communities," Pam Davis, CEO of Edward-Elmhurst Health, said in a statement. "With our commitment to improvement, collaboration and innovation, this investment in Smart Choice MRI will provide greater service and choice to our patients as well as improved efficiency within our system."

Edward-Elmhurst also has a few of its own stand-alone imaging centers. The system said its doctors will continue to make MRI referrals based on the most appropriate location for patient care.

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