If MRI Results Are Bad Do They Tell You Right Away?

When undergoing an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), many patients often wonder when they will get results, especially if there might be bad findings. Understanding the process of how and when MRI results are communicated can help alleviate some of the anxiety associated with waiting for results. This article will explore when bad MRI results are typically communicated and the factors that influence the timing of these reports.

MRI Procedure and Results Timeline

An MRI scan is a powerful tool used in medical imaging to visualize detailed internal structures of the body. This non-invasive procedure is important for diagnosing a variety of conditions from brain tumors and spinal injuries to joint abnormalities and heart issues. Generally, the process of getting MRI results does not vary significantly whether the findings are good or bad.

After the MRI scan is completed, the images are usually sent to a radiologist, a doctor specialized in interpreting medical images. The radiologist examines the images, writes a report, and sends this report to the physician who ordered the MRI. This process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Immediate Communication of Urgent Findings

While the standard procedure for reporting MRI results involves some waiting, there are exceptions, especially if the findings are urgent. If an MRI scan reveals a critical condition that requires immediate medical attention, such as a life-threatening tumor or an acute stroke, the radiologist will typically alert the ordering physician immediately. This rapid communication ensures that necessary medical interventions can be started as soon as possible to address the condition.

Factors Affecting the Speed of MRI Results Communication

The speed at which MRI results are communicated can be affected by several factors:

• Facility Workflow: The efficiency of the medical facility and the specific protocols in place can significantly influence how quickly results are processed and communicated.
• Radiologist Availability: The availability of a radiologist to review the MRI scans can also impact the timing.  The radiologist workload and backlog of cases will also have an influence.
• Complexity of the Case: More complex cases may require additional more time to review or a second opinion

Patient Communication Protocol

Most medical facilities have a protocol for how results are communicated to patients. Typically, patients will discuss their MRI results during a follow-up appointment with their physician rather than receiving results directly from the radiologist. This allows the physician to explain the findings in the context of the patient’s overall health and discuss the next steps if any issues are found.

When and How to Seek MRI Results

If you are anxious about your MRI results, there are a few steps you can take:

• Ask About the Timeline: When scheduling the MRI, ask about the expected timeline for the results and the process for their delivery. This can provide a clear expectation and reduce anxiety.
• Follow-Up: If you haven’t heard back within the expected time frame, it’s appropriate to call your physician’s office to inquire about your results.
• Patient Portals: Many healthcare providers now use online patient portals where results can be posted. Check if your results might be accessible through such a portal.


Whether bad MRI results are communicated immediately largely depends on the urgency of the findings. While standard MRI results typically follow a set reporting process that can take a few days, urgent or life-threatening findings are communicated much more quickly to facilitate prompt treatment. Understanding these processes can help manage expectations and reduce anxiety while waiting for MRI results. Always communicate openly with your healthcare provider about your concerns and how you will receive your MRI results.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.

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