Medicare MRI Use Declined from 2008 to 2010

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A study in the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR) finds that after increasing sharply for 10 years, the use of MRI for Medicare patients began to decline four years ago.

Looking at Medicare Part B data sets, the researchers found that from 1998 to 2008, the utilization rate of MR exams increased from 73 per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries to 189 per 1,0000 beneficiaries. Then, the utilization rate began to fall for the next two years.

Because advanced diagnostic imaging (and in particular, high-cost high-tech exams like MRI procedures) is often cited as one of the causes of rapidly increasing health care costs, the study could help policymakers. In particular, this study seems to refute the idea that cutting down on high-cost high-tech procedures like advanced diagnostic imaging alone will reduce health care costs.

The authors wrote that many causes could be behind the decline in MRI use. Factors that might be at play include changes in reimbursement that limited patient access to MRI, as well as better adherence by ordering physicians to utilization guidelines.

Read the study in the JACR.