The financial implications of imaging and obesity

One of the great challenges facing radiology--and all of medicine, for that matter--is the question of how to deal with the growing obesity problem.

For radiologists, the issue is complicated by a number of factors. For example, since excessive body fat absorbs radiation, heavy patients are subject to heavier doses when they undergo scans on modalities like CT.

But, that's a concern only if the patient can be imaged at all. An article published last fall in the Wall Street Journal referenced the case of a man from Maryland who had been looking for more than a year for a MR scanner larger enough to accommodate the 630 pounds he carries.

Medical facilities that can't provide advanced imaging for some obese individuals face additional problems, other than not being able to provide optimal medical care for their patients. What happens when a patient is scheduled for an examination, and is taken into the examination room, only to discover he or she is too big for the machine? Besides the embarrassment caused to the patient, the facility now has workflow issues. Examination schedules have to be rearranged, time is lost, and money wasted.

In addition, if the situation is warranted, a hospital might have to find another facility that can accommodate the patient, and then transport the patient to that facility. Again, more time and money lost.

The obesity epidemic has turned into a business opportunity for some, with medical imaging manufacturers producing bigger and more powerful scanners to accommodate such patients. That's not necessarily good news for facilities that might have a hard time affording the large price tags associated with such tools, though.

Still, can facilities afford not to purchase the larger machines? After all, depending on the source, between 3 and 6 percent of adults are morbidly obese--the kind of patients who will be more susceptible to the kinds of imaging and illnesses that will need imaging. While researchers have explored some safer alternatives for the imaging of obese patients, their findings don't appear to be far enough along to justify not doing so.

For the time being, spending might be the only option. - Mike  @FierceHealthIT


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