Don't blame imaging for high health costs

The percentage of patient encounters that result in imaging tests has been--and continues to be--in decline, according to a study published in the July issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

The study, conducted by the Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute, was designed to look beyond the simple calculation of Medicare use and costs by also analyzing the decisions and actions physicians take during patient visits. Consequently, the researchers looked at data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) from 2003 to 2010, as well as Medicare Part B claims from 2003 to 2011.

The researchers found that the number of physician visits by patients older than 65 resulting in imaging examinations declined from 12.8 percent in 2003 to 10.6 percent in 2011. At the same time, annual health spending and Medicare payments for that population grew from $294 per enrollee in 2003 to $418 in 2006 (when the Deficit Reduction Act was enacted), and then declined to $390 by 2011.

"This study should prompt a rethinking of the assumption that diagnostic imaging is a leading contributor to the nation's health spending challenges," Danny Hughes, Ph.D., one of the authors, said according to Healthcare IT News. "When you look at the available evidence in a truly patient-centered way, understanding what occurs on a patient visit to the doctor, then you see that physicians are calling for less, not more, imaging tests."

The authors concluded that "spending alone is ... an incomplete measure of changes in the role and utilization of medical imaging in overall patient care," and that more research is needed to see how payment policy will influence imaging utilization and concurrent and downstream patient care.

To learn more:
- read the study in the Journal of the American College of Radiology
- see the article in Healthcare IT News

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