In Washington, large percentage of some imaging tests unnecessary

A statewide report out of Washington has determined that a large percentage of diagnostic tests and treatments--including those related to medical imaging--are unnecessary and put patients at risk.

The report, issued by the Washington Health Alliance, involves claims data from 3.3 million patients and examines 11 different diagnostic tests and procedures, according to an article in the Seattle Times.

For example, the report found that about one-third of children suspected of having appendicitis underwent CT scans rather than ultrasound, despite what some medical associations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend.

What's more, the use of these procedures varied greatly from one county to another. For example, in Clark County, just 14 percent of children suspected of having appendicitis were scanned by CT compare to Yakima Country, where 51 percent were scanned by CT.

In Wharton County, 13 percent of patients with simple ovarian cysts underwent unnecessary follow-up imaging, the report found, compared to 61 percent of women in Island County. And for the state as a whole, about a quarter of the patients who presented with an uncomplicated headache underwent potentially unnecessary CT or MRI scans.

"We really do harm, giving radiation to patients where we're not going to show any value," Brian Seppi, M.D., the newly-elected president of the Washington State Hospital Association, told the Times.

That said, the reports had some more reassuring results. For example, less than 1 percent of patients with sinus infections ended up getting CT scans, a number the report referred to as "positive" because it indicated that physicians were following clinical guidelines.

Seppi said he believes the report will help reduce these practices, as well as the variations by county, by giving physicians recommendations they can use when dealing with patients who are pressuring them to prescribe examinations or procedures that may be unnecessary.

A recent survey determined that unnecessary imaging leads to as much as $12 billion in wasted healthcare costs annually, and identified patient demand as one of the major contributing factors.

To learn more:
- check out the report (.pdf)
- read the article the Yakima Herald