Study: Add more MRI machines, get more back studies

It's a unique phenomenon of medicine that medical testing devices create their own demand. Unfortunately, that may also mean that patients get procedures that they don't necessarily need.

A new study suggests that if people with new lower back pain have easy access to MRIs, it changes their treatment plan. An analysis of 1998 to 2005 Medicare data found that patients with new pain in their lower back were more likely to have back surgery if they were treated in an area that had a higher-than-average concentration of MRI equipment.

Study authors also concluded that two-thirds of MRIs resulting from increased availability of the technology took place within the first month of back pain, despite guidelines recommending that clinicians hold off on an MRI scan for four months in these circumstances. In many cases, patients showed improvement during this four month period.

While the earlier intervention may sound good, the truth is that increased surgery rates don't improve outcomes for patients who have recently been diagnosed with back pain, researchers said.

To learn more about the study:
- read this HealthDay News piece

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