Trend: Providers increase use of CT scans

To date, CT scans have never been proved in large medical studies to be better than other forms of imaging. Worse, they expose patients to larger doses of radiation than other scans, equivalent to several hundred X-rays at minimum. However, physicians are increasingly feeling pressure to use them, particularly given the high volume of positive consumer press extolling their virtues. They're also tempted to bring the technology on board  to take advantage of the $500 to $1,500 each scan can generate. (In some cases, physicians invest in the CT scan as part of profitable partnerships with outside investors.) The result has been that more than 150,000 people got CT scans last year at a price tag of more than $100 million. And despite the fact that little evidence exists that CT scans are better than other imaging approaches, that volume is expected to soar in coming years.

Critics say that CT scans may fall into the same category as other recent innovations that have turned out to be expensive and at best, no more effective than alternative options. For example, they note that cholesterol drug Vytorin costs 20 times as much as some older cholesterol meds, but hasn't been proved to deliver more benefits. They also point to the case of artificial spinal disks, a costly treatment that doesn't seem to reduce back pain for many patients. Aware of these concerns, Medicare took the unusual step of raising questions about the benefits of CT heart scans last year and demanded evidence that they were beneficial. However, after lobbying by cardiology groups, Medicare backed down.

To learn more about questions surrounding CT scans:
- read this article from The New York Times

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