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Use of Imaging Technology Skyrockets
Date:11/10/2008

But study questions if MRIs, CT scans are always worth the cost

MONDAY, Nov. 10 (HealthDay News) -- The use of MRI and CT scanners in the United States has more than doubled since 1995. But that hasn't necessarily resulted in better health care or fewer deaths, according to a study by researchers at Stanford and Harvard universities.

The researchers analyzed Medicare claims data and found that the number of MRI procedures per 1,000 beneficiaries was 0.3 in 1985, 50 in 1995 and 173 in 2003. The number of CT procedures increased from 235 per 1,000 beneficiaries in 1995 to 547 per 1,000 in 2005.

Each new CT scanner led to an additional 2,224 CT procedures per year, adding $685,000 to the nation's yearly Medicare bill. Each new MRI unit led to an additional 733 MRI procedures per year, adding $550,000 to annual Medicare costs.

Increased use of scanning technology can improve health results for some patients and can also produce less tangible benefits, such as providing patients with more information about a disease or condition. But the researchers said it's unclear whether these less tangible benefits justify the costs of more machines and tests.

As an example, the researchers said they looked at the use of CT scans to diagnose conditions affecting the abdominal aorta, particularly abdominal aortic aneurysms. While increased use of CT scans resulted in a few more patients being treated, the change was small. This example highlights the challenges of measuring costs and benefits from increased use of imaging technologies, said the researchers, who added that further study is needed.

The study was published in the November-December edition of the journal Health Affairs, a special issue that examines the costs and benefits of increased use of new medical technologies.

"We pay for a lot of things that make us happier, but don't necessarily make us healthier. We need to improve our abil
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