Medical Imaging in ER’s: An Upward Trend


medical imaging in the ERWe’ve all heard the bad news about medical imaging: growing commoditization, shrinking reimbursements, smaller imaging budgets, and greater-than-ever expectations of medical imaging professionals.

So here’s some good news. Emergency rooms across the country are using more medical imaging than ever.

An article in the October issue of The Journal of the American College of Radiology reports the results of a study of Medicare Part B data from 2000 to 2008. Here are the highlights.

  • Overall utilization of medical imaging went from 281.0 per 1000 beneficiaries to 450.4 – a jump of 60 percent.
  • Radiography utilization went up 29 percent, from 227.3  procedures per 1000 beneficiaries to 294.3
  • CT utilization jumped an amazing 227 percent, from 40 per 1000 beneficiaries to 130.7. It also doubled in terms of overall medical imaging utilization, from 14 percent of all imaging procedures to 29 percent.
  • Ultrasound utilization went from 9.6 procedures per 1000 beneficiaries to 18.7 percent – a jump of nearly 96 percent.

Why are ER’s using more medical imaging? The researchers suggest 1) CT scanners have become faster, more accurate, and more accessible; 2) Growing caseloads in ER’s as more uninsured people seek medical care; 3) Overuse of medical imaging to increase diagnoses and decrease the risk of a malpractice claim.

The really good news is that 96 percent of all medical imaging done for ER’s is done by radiologists. If the trend continues – and there’s no reason to think that it won’t – then more opportunities will open up to medical imaging professionals. Come to think of it, even if the numbers remain steady, radiologists will have a lot to do for ER’s for some time to come.

Let’s hope that’s the case.

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