Researchers: Advanced imaging growth rate on the decline

New research published last week in BMC Medical Imaging found that while advanced imaging utilization peaked during the beginning of the first decade of the 21st Century, that growth rate slowed dramatically in the latter half of the decade.

Researchers used data from the U.S. Medical Expenditure Panel Survey during the period between 2000 and 2009. The imaging utilization rate was defined as the number of outpatient visits with MRI/CT per 1,000 person-years.

MRI/CT utilization rates increased from 64.3 to 119.6 per 1,000 persons in the period from 2000 to 2008, and then declined to 109.1 per 1,000 persons in 2009. Furthermore, while MRI/CT utilization rates increased at a rate of just under 15 percent from 2000 to 2005, those rates fell to an average annual growth rate of almost 0 percent from 2005 to 2009.

The elderly, females and Medicare enrollees had the highest rate of use, according to the researchers, who found that imaging growth slowed in the later years of the study; the average annual decline in the imaging growth rate (4.7 percent) was significantly greater than other outpatient services.

These observations related to the trend of slowing growth in advanced diagnostic imaging are, as the researchers pointed out, consistent with other studies.

For example, a study published in July 2012 in Health Affairs found that the use of advanced imaging grew consistently from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s, but slowed (among both Medicare and non-Medicare patients) to a rate of between 1 and 2 percent through 2009.

The authors of that study suggested the slowdown was attributable to pre-authorization requirements, decreased Medicare reimbursements, and increasing concerns about radiation exposure from advanced imaging modalities like CT and PET.

A more recent study, published in the July 2013 issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology, found that the number of physician visits by patients 65 years of age or older resulting in an imaging exam trended downward over the last decade, from 12.8 percent in 2003 to 10.6 percent in 2011. Similarly, Medicare spending per enrollee for imaging has declined, from $418 in 2006 to $390 in 2011.

To learn more:
- read the study from BMC Medical Imaging
- see the study in Health Affairs
- check out the study from JACR