TUESDAY, June 12 (HealthDay News) -- The number of advanced diagnostic scans, such as CTs and MRIs, has zoomed upward since 1996, greatly boosting the amount of estimated radiation that patients receive, according to a new analysis of the medical records of millions of Americans in HMO health plans.
It's not clear what extra risk the radiation poses, nor is it known how much difference the scans have made in terms of diagnosing and treating illness. Still, the existing research raises questions about overuse of the scans, said study lead author Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco.
"We spend in the ballpark of $100 billion a year on medical imaging, and we need to invest some research dollars to figure out how best to spend these dollars and when to image more and when to image less," she said. "The impact on health outcomes should be the driver of these decisions, rather than the fact that a new test has simply become available and we are enamored with the images."
The researchers studied millions of patients from six large HMO (health maintenance organization) health care systems over the period from 1996 to 2010. They followed 1 million to 2 million patients each year.
According to the findings, published in the June 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, patients underwent an average of just over one imaging examination -- such as an X-ray -- per year. A little over one-third were advanced diagnostic imaging tests, such as CT (computed tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), nuclear medicine, a subset of nuclear medicine called PET (positron emission tomography), and ultrasound scans.
The researchers found that CT scans grew by nearly 8 percent a year, MRIs by 10 percent a year, and ultrasounds by nearly 4 percent a year. Nuclear medicine scans, which are fairly uncommon, di
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