Survey finds older docs delighted with advanced imaging

A supermajority of primary care physicians credit advanced imaging with helping them make better decisions for their patients—and the longer the docs have been practicing medicine, the more appreciative they are of the latest and greatest in imaging technology.

In so many words, those are two key conclusions in a study published online Jan. 25 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Led by Christine Hughes of the Hadley Hart Group in Chicago, the authors surveyed 500 primary care physicians on their perceptions about, and attitudes toward, advanced medical imaging. Respondents ranged in age from 29 to 77 and averaged 19.4 years of practice.

Far more than half said they believe advanced medical imaging provides data not otherwise available (90 percent), increases diagnostic confidence (88 percent), improves confidence in treatment choices (88 percent) and shortens time to definitive diagnosis (86 percent).

“The more experienced physicians remember doing routine myelograms, routine exploratory laparotomies, even arthroscopies for the knee,” Hughes explained in a conversation with imagingBiz. “They know what it’s like to practice without advanced imaging, and they understand that they can now get an immediate answer to start the appropriate treatment protocol.”

Hughes said younger doctors frequently indicated that they appreciate advanced imaging for their own reasons. “They tend to value it for [facilitating] patient interaction, and they see it as an efficiency tool,” she said. “They believe it helps them see more patients because they don’t have to do in-depth physical exams” to confirm or fine-tune diagnoses.

The study also found misperceptions of the costs associated with advanced medical imaging. For example, more than half of respondents overestimated the Medicare reimbursement of an MRI of the brain to be two to three times the actual amount.

On this point Hughes cited her previous research finding similar misperceptions and expressed some dismay.

“It’s almost as if MRI has become the poster child for the high cost of healthcare,” she said. “That’s not fair. If you look at what they do for varicose veins—what they charge and the minimal amount of technology that’s involved cost-wise—there is no comparison.”

Hughes predicted that pricing transparency will soon permeate all of U.S. healthcare. She said imaging could benefit as this development gains steam “if the radiologists get out there and make sure that people, including primary care physicians, know what [radiologists] are paid on a global basis,” alongside hospitals and imaging centers.

She added that her previous analyses of MRI utilization showed that it doesn’t deviate from a regular technology adoption curve. “If it’s a great technology, which MRI is, it will always grow along that adoption curve without outside constraints.”

Gail Rodriguez, executive director of the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA), suggested that, apart from Hughes’ study, there’s ample anecdotal evidence pointing to physicians’ support of advanced imaging for a very simple reason: steady technological improvement.

“When I started in imaging 20 some-odd years ago, the sensitivity and specificity were acceptable; they were OK,” said Rodriguez. “Today we are looking at much higher accuracy quantifying things like tumor volumes. I really think that sort of precision is part of why these physicians have become so much more comfortable with advanced imaging over the years.”

To access “Perspectives on the Value of Advanced Medical Imaging: A National Survey of Primary Care Physicians,” click here (purchase or subscription required).