How CTs and MRIs drive health care spending

It’s well known that the use of imaging scans, like CTs, MRIs and PET scans, have been growing at an alarming rate.

But a recent study provides some stark numbers.

According to a recent CDC report, “MRI, CT or PET scans were done or ordered in 14 percent of ER visits in 2007, the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. That’s four times as often as in 1996.”

Although a physician called that growth “astounding,” it’s really no surprise.

Emergency departments are becoming more crowded, and with patient satisfaction scores becoming more influential in financial incentives for physicians, sometimes just ordering a test is the path of least resistance.

Factor in the specter of defensive medicine, which, according to a survey from the Massachusetts Medical Society, accounts for up to 28% of tests ordered, it’s a wonder that more scans weren’t ordered.

Imaging scans are clear cost driver in health care, contributing $12 billion to Medicare’s bill. But costs won’t resonate with patients requesting the tests, or the doctors ordering them. One encouraging sign is the recent trend of publicizing the harms of scans, like radiation from CTs. I’m finding that patients are becoming increasingly aware of the risk, and making a more informed decision after I explain it to them.

It’s a small step forward.