Study: Doctors overuse imaging for lower-back pain

Does your lower back hurt? Your doctor may very well order an imaging study of the area, even if the scan isn't strictly needed. That's the conclusion drawn by new research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. To do their analysis, researchers looked at Medicare claims from 2000 to 2002 and 2004 to 2006 for 35,039 fee-for-service beneficiaries with acute lower-back pain.

Established guidelines suggest that rapid and advanced imaging for lower-back pain doesn't do much for patients who have no complications or triggering issues, such as cancer. But doctors continue to use such tests in other contexts.

Doctors were more likely to use rapid and advanced imaging in caring for uncomplicated lower-back pain when it improved patient satisfaction, researchers found. Imaging use also varied depending on the type of physician and practice size, as well as reimbursement.

For example, Medicaid patients treated in practices relying more on government insurance received less-rapid and less-advanced imaging for lower-back problems. Small and solo practices, as well as family and general practitioners, also ordered fewer advantaged imaging tests.

To learn more about this research:
- read this Modern Healthcare piece (reg. req.)

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