Use of CT scans slowing, though not in ERs

The use of CT scans is slowing from the double-digit growth of a decade ago, yet despite reduced reimbursement rates, providers remain optimistic about their short-term financial prospects.

The estimated 85.3 million procedures performed in the United States in 2011 represents a growth rate of 4 percent, compared with growth rates of 13 percent or higher in the early 2000s, according to a market research report from vendor IMV's Medical Information Division.

Iin the survey of 405 radiology administrators nationwide, 58 percent anticipated further growth this year, although 44 percent predicted reimbursement levels would fall, according to AuntMinnie.com, a site owned by IMV.

Despite the reduced reimbursements for Medicare and third-party reimbursements, 20 percent felt revenues would decrease, 45 believed they would stay the same as in 2011 and 30 percent looked for an increase. The remaining 5 percent were undecided.

Hospital radiology departments are seeing an increase in patients coming through ERs, with 80 percent of survey respondents citing managing those increases as a priority. Outpatient and ER now make up 82 percent of scans, compared with 66 percent a decade ago, Health Imaging reports.

With better reimbursement rates for hospital-owned imaging centers, outpatients increasingly are being shifted there instead of freestanding imaging center, the report says.

Radiation dose continues to be an area of concern, with 75 percent of respondents listing that as a priority, though only 10 percent believe patient concerns would limit use of the scans. The industry continues to try to reduce exposure while ensuring image quality. Recent studies have centered on the correct dose for children and the obese.

Diagnostic imaging procedures should be conducted at the lowest radiation dose to make a diagnosis, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) has said. But some experts say fears of radiation exposure in healthcare are overblown.

Though the Joint Commission has warned against overtesting, a recent study found that patients with chest pain who had heart CT scans in ERs were twice as likely to be discharged and had significantly shorter stays in hospital if they were admitted.

And PET/CT scans were found to help physicians determine whether curative or palliative treatment were the best course of treatment for patients for esophageal cancer, according to an Austrian study also reported at Aunt Minnie.

To learn more:
- read the Aunt Minnie article
- here's the Health Imaging coverage
- check out the esophageal cancer study

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