Imaging Costs Not A Major Component of Wasted Health Care Expenditures

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Unnecessary tests and treatments cost the U.S. health care system $6.7 billion in 2009, but expenditures for unnecessary imaging dwarfed those for other procedures, according to a research letter published in the October 1 edition of Archives of Internal Medicine.

In the letter, researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, New York review the findings of a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine this past May. That study identified the top 15 most wasteful primary care treatments and involved a cross-sectional analysis of data from the National Ambulatory Medicare Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

To read the abstract, click here: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/archinternmed.2011.501

Lead researcher Minale Kale, MD, and collleagues found that brand-name statin prescriptions accounted for 86% of unnecessary spending, or $5.8 billion. According to lead researcher Minal Kale,MD, the analysis "shows astronomical costs associated with prescribing brand name statins when effective, generic alternatives were available." By contrast, unnecessary bone density scans in women under the age of 65 cost a far more modest $527 million;unnecessary CT scans, MRIs, or X-Rays for back pain, roughly $175 million;

Overall, Kale notes that the study identified "considerable variability in the frequency of inappropriate care" but that "even activities with small individual costs can contribute substantially to overall health care costs."