How much does an EKG really cost?

EKGs are important tests used to evaluate your heart health. While EKGs are an essential part of cardiac care, people often wonder how the cost of an EKG is determined and what they should expect to pay for one.

What Are EKGs Used For?

An EKG, short for electrocardiogram, is a quick medical test that can be performed in doctors’ offices, hospital rooms, urgent care centers, or emergency rooms. EKGs are used to provide an evaluation of the electrical activity of your heart.  

The test can be performed by unlicensed healthcare professionals, but can only be read or interpreted by a physician. The test involves attaching ten small electrodes to your chest, arms, and legs. The EKG reader measures the electrical changes between the electrodes to capture a real-time “picture” of your heart and its electrical activity.  

There are many different reasons that your physician might recommend an EKG. Doctors typically use EKGs to do one or more of the following:

  • Identify your underlying heart rhythm 
  • Detect any electrical abnormalities
  • Diagnose certain types of heart attacks
  • Observe changes in previous EKGs
  • Detect possible electrolyte imbalances
  • Establish where in the heart electrical disturbances are located

What to Expect With an EKG

Getting an EKG is pretty straightforward. When you get an EKG, the test will typically take about 5 minutes. You will lie back with most of your chest uncovered. Small stickers will be placed in very specific positions, with one sticker on each limb and six stickers on your chest around the heart area.

Once the stickers are in place, the person performing the test will attach a wire to each sticker using a clip on the end of the wire. The other end of each wire will lead to the EKG machine. Once all ten wires are attached, the test is ready to begin.

The actual test itself is probably the easiest and quickest part of getting an EKG. The EKG machine only needs to have six consecutive seconds of good data to generate a result. During this test, you will have to lie as still as possible, as any muscle movement creates electrical activity that drowns out the electrical activity of the heart.

Once the test is complete, the EKG technician will print off a copy of your test for the doctor to review.

Factors Influencing the Cost of an EKG

There are two main factors that affect the cost of an EKG to the facility performing it. The first is the cost of actually performing the test. This can include the time of the EKG technician, the cost to use the machine, the cost of scheduling your appointment, and many other small expenses. The second part of the EKG’s cost is the time and expertise of the physician who reviews and interprets your test.

While the cost to perform an EKG seems like it would be pretty consistent between most facilities, healthcare billing practices cause wide varieties in EKG prices. The majority of cost variations for EKGs are due to differences in insurance.

The influence that your insurance has on the cost of an EKG is quite complicated. Insurance companies all negotiate different rates and terms with different facilities. This means that while you may pay the same copay for an EKG at two different places, your insurance could pay hundreds more for the same test. This can also mean that two people with different insurances could have very different charges for the exact same test.  

How Much Does an EKG Cost Without Insurance?

For those without insurance, the unknowns associated with the costs of tests like EKGs can seem intimidating. Unfortunately, this cost is quite unpredictable. Healthcare facilities are generally reluctant to disclose the cost of exams and procedures. This reluctance is mostly due to the fact that they have negotiated very different prices with difference insurers.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to know how much a facility will charge someone without insurance for an EKG without actually contacting that specific facility.

An overview of historical EKG prices will reveal estimates ranging from $50 to $1500. However, a more realistic estimate of average EKG prices tend to fall within the range of $180-$300. The lack of transparency in healthcare prices and huge differences in how facilities bill creates the large price fluctuations.

One very important consideration often overlooked by those who are uninsured is that the price for tests can be negotiable. Healthcare facilities frequently negotiate with insurance providers over test prices and are often willing to do the same for people who are self-pay.

Where Do People Get EKGs?

EKGs are common tests and are done in a great variety of settings. Some of the most common places to get an EKG include:

  • In your family doctor’s office
  • At a cardiologist’s office
  • In emergency rooms or urgent care centers
  • In a hospital, while admitted

There are many environments where an individual will have an electrocardiogram performed on them, and the prices can vary significantly depending on the location and reason for the test. If you are insured, it is always a good idea to check with your insurance carrier to see exactly how they will cover this test.