What Are the Causes & Concerns of Slow Medical Imaging Growth?

2013-03-25
 

Medical Imaging ResultsFor many years, costs for advanced medical imaging rose at a solid pace, similar to the overall rise in healthcare expenditures. Growth in medical imaging services began to slow around 2006 when researchers reviewed Medicare recipients’ patient profiles. Research suggests that a slowdown in advanced imaging affected the insured private sector as well. (Source)

The American College of Radiology (ACR) stated that a slowdown in medical imaging may have negative consequences and emphasized that the findings were incomplete.

Two economists, David W. Lee, head of health economics and reimbursement for the U.S. and Canada at GE Healthcare and Frank Levy, PhD, professor of urban economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wanted answers. They analyzed trends in utilization to determine the real factors contributing to a decline and whether a slowdown was good or bad for patients.

Factors Causing Slow Growth in Medical Imaging

First, let’s look at some factors that have caused medical imaging growth to slow.

Imaging Studies – Some studies, such as MRI of the lumbar spine and MRI of any lower extremity joint, were perceived as having questionable diagnostic value, so those numbers declined.

Reimbursement Cuts – According to the FDA, there are 207 fewer mammography facilities and nearly 1,200 fewer mammography scanners available to American women than in January 2007. When imaging providers reduce services or close, it decreases the overall number of diagnostics performed.

Insurance Coverage Denials – A Patient Advocate Foundation report found that insurance coverage denials to patients seeking critical imaging services have doubled over the last four years. Though 90 percent of the denials were reversed, imaging service providers may not have the margins for consistent payment delays.

Increased Efficiencies – While increased efficiencies due to advances in medical imaging software are valuable, it may contribute to the slowdown simply by reducing duplicate scanning.

Significance of Less Medical Imaging

The ACR argues that imaging exams are related to greater life expectancy and a decline in mortality rates and point to studies that affirm their stance. In addition, scans are safer and less expensive than many invasive procedures they replace. For more serious indications, imaging exams reduce the number of invasive surgeries, unnecessary hospital admissions and length of hospital stays.

“Arbitrary, backward looking limits on care may slow or even reverse gains against cancers and other serious illnesses and deny patients access to potentially lifesaving services. This can’t be allowed to happen,” said Paul Ellenbogen, MD, chair of ACR board of chancellors.

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