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Study shows increase in unnecessary MRI use and spending


Last year, Stanford policy expert Laurence Baker, PhD, published a paper showing that high numbers of MRI machines were tied to higher numbers of MRI scans and back surgeries. Now he has done another MRI-use study, using Medicare claims to show that when non-radiologists acquire their own MRI equipment - a trend that began in the mid-1990s - the number of MRIs and subsequent health procedures increase.

The concern with the additional procedures, of course, is that they drive up health spending. And while the increase in MRI use shown in the study may have led to health improvements for patients (the study didn’t look at health implications), there’s also a strong possibility that some scans were unnecessary. As noted in the Health Affairs paper:

The change appears primarily to reflect doctors' recommending MRI for patients for whom they would not have recommended the service before they acquired the ability to bill.

Baker said the research shows a need for policymakers to assess the value and cost-effectiveness of imaging and other high-cost medical technologies, and to ensure unnecessary use is curbed.

Photo by National Institutes of Health

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