The decline in the use of medical imaging scans corresponds with the increasing length of hospital stays, according to a new report by the American College of Radiology's Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute.
The report notes that it is unclear whether the trends are related, and that more research is needed to determine what kind of an impact medical imaging policy has on medical costs and patient safety. But, according to a recent Diagnostic Imaging article, HPI CEO Richard Duszak, M.D., suggested on a conference call that "it would not be illogical to say that some of those salutary effects [of medical imaging's utility] could be minimized if imaging decreases."
The report, using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, found that between 2000 and 2010, medical visits involving imaging declined from 11.1 percent to 10.4 percent, while the average length of Medicare hospital stays increased from 4.9 to 5.2 nights. According to the report, the added cost to the healthcare system from latter trend could be as much as $21 billion per year.
As for evidence that the length of hospital stay could be related to the decline in imaging scans, the report referred to several studies, including one from the April 2010 issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology that reported that patients who had imaging earlier in their hospital admission process had shorter stays than those imaged later in their stay.
"Lawmakers, regulators and medical professionals are making medical imaging policy decisions without fully understanding or examining their downstream effects--which may include an increase in hospital stays, associated costs and other adverse events," Duszak in an announcement. "We need to examine imaging, as it relates to a patient's overall continuum of care, to ensure that decision makers don't create imaging cost reduction policies which paradoxically raise overall costs, create barriers to care, and ultimately harm patients."