The widely reported decline in 2010 of diagnostic imaging spending and utilization announced by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) this week demonstrates to policymakers the value of medical imaging on multiple fronts, says Gail Rodriguez, executive director of the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA).
“When utilization rates and spending decrease that rapidly and that dramatically, I think the key takeaway is that imaging is just not a cost driver in Medicare,” Rodriguez says.
Rodriguez, who says she “love[s] good data,” finds the MedPAC report to be a policy icebreaker that could “free up the conversation about the value of imaging.”
Since 2006, MITA reports, per-beneficiary Medicare spending on imaging services has fallen more than 13%, even as the costs of non-imaging services have climbed 20%.
Statistics like that “enable us to set the stage for making folks understand both the clinical and the economic value of diagnostic imaging,” Rodriguez says.
As better utilization research emerges, she says—like the popular Health Affairs report examining associations between EHR access and the ordering of imaging studies—national priorities can begin to coalesce around agreed-upon standards.
“Variations in patient care are going to exist,” Rodriguez says. “That’s one reason MITA is so emphatic about our guidelines on appropriateness criteria.
“When those criteria are applied correctly,” she says, “utilization is entirely appropriate. That should be a priority for everyone in the future.”
Even when the politics of healthcare clouds the national debate about how treatments should be delivered or payments structured, Rodriguez says, the underlying principles of medicine are still rooted in verifiable fact.
“The good thing about medical care and medicine and medical research is that it’s still awfully well controlled in terms of the value of evidence,” she says. “The scientific method works. Peer review works. That’s the reason you’ll hear my members defer to the value of peer-reviewed, published research: it saves lives.”
If Rodriguez's analysis holds true, federal decision-makers may begin to see that imaging can also save money at the same time.