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MRI, CT Scans for ER Patients Triple Over Decade
Date:10/5/2010

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Oct. 5 (HealthDay News) -- The use of CT and MRI scans for injury-related emergency room visits in the United States has tripled since 1998, new research finds.

"There has been a dramatic increase in the likelihood of getting a CT or MRI scan during visits to emergency departments for injury-related conditions without a corresponding increase in the likelihood of diagnosing life-threatening injuries during those visits," said lead researcher Dr. Frederick Kofi Korley, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

"Emergency departments in the United States are excellent at rapidly diagnosing and treating life-threatening illnesses, however, we need to better understand how to provide the same level of care in a cost-effective way," he added.

A CT scan can cost anywhere from $270 to $4,800, depending on the body area scanned and hospital location, according to comparecatscancost.com. Likewise, an MRI goes for between $400 and $3,500, according to comparemricosts.com.

But besides raising health-care costs, scanning increases radiation exposure and prolongs stays in the ER, according to background information in the study, which is published in the Oct. 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

To assess ER use of MRIs and CTs around the country, Korley's group used data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

Of 324,569 emergency department visits between 1998 and 2007, 20 percent were injury-related, the researchers found.

Of 5,237 sample injury-related visits in 1998, 6 percent of the patients received an MRI or CT. By 2007, 15 percent of 6,567 patients sampled had scans, Korley's team found. CT scans accounted for most of the increase in imaging, they said.

Whether this growing reliance on technology improves outcomes is questionable.

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