Additional Evidence Shows Medical Imaging Utilization Rates Declining

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The Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute was set up in part to challenge wrong assumptions about the role of imaging in the rise in health spending, and the latest study from the Institute does just that.

Published in the July issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology ( JACR), the study found that the number of physician visits by patients 65 years of age or older resulting in an imaging exam is consistently trending downward, from 12.8 percent in 2003 to 10.6 percent in 2011. Similarly, Medicare spending per enrollee for imaging has declined from $418 in 2006 to $390 in 2011.

The study is different from previous research articles on imaging utilization because it looks beyond just Medicare spending data. The Neiman Institute researchers also examined Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) data collected by the federal government to review and analyze actual physician decisions and actions during medical appointments from a patient-centered perspective.

"This study should prompt a rethinking of the assumption that diagnostic imaging is a leading contributor to the nation's health spending challenges," said Danny Hughes, Ph.D., one of the study authors in the press release.

Further research needs to be done to see if the decrease in use of imaging exams could be leading to increased health care costs in other areas, Hughes also noted. "We know from previous research that use of imaging leads to reduced rates of hospital readmissions, fewer unnecessary procedures, shorter hospital stays, longer lifespans and lower mortality rates,” he said in the release. “As we look at imaging utilization and spending, we need to understand the whole picture of imaging's relationship to health care cost trends and quality of care."