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Self-referral spurs unnecessary MRI exams for patients
Date:9/16/2013

OAK BROOK, Ill. Patients having knee MRI examinations are significantly more likely to receive a negative finding if referred by physicians who have a financial interest in the imaging equipment being used, according to a study published online in the journal Radiology.

Imaging self-referral, whereby a non-radiologist physician refers their own patients for imaging to facilities in which they or their partners have a financial interest, is a growing trend in medicine and a significant driver of healthcare costs. Medical imaging self-referral leads to higher utilization and unnecessary imaging examinations.

"Our study was the first to examine one of the most common advanced outpatient imaging studies ordered in the United States today: orthopedic knee MRI," said Matthew P. Lungren, M.D., co-director of the Interventional Radiology Translational Research Lab at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "In our work, we were able not only to evaluate the outcome of the knee MRI examinations ordered by physicians with financial interest in the imaging equipment, but to compare this to another matched referral physician group that had no financial stake in the imaging equipment."

From 2004 through 2010, the number of self-referred MRI services increased by more than 80 percent, compared with an increase of 12 percent for non-self-referred MRI services. Likewise, the growth rate of expenditures for self-referred MRI services was also higher than for non-self-referred MRI services, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. It is estimated that in 2010, providers who self-referred made as many as 400,000 more referrals for advanced imaging services than they would have if they were not self-referring, costing Medicare about $109 million.

For the study, researchers reviewed 700 consecutive diagnostic knee exams from 667 patients to determine if ownership of MRI equipment by ordering physicians affected the
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Contact: Linda Brooks
lbrooks@rsna.org
630-590-7762
Radiological Society of North America
Source:Eurekalert

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