Radiology’s relevance: Primary care docs tout the value of imaging

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As radiologists strive to highlight their relevance in the healthcare continuum, a majority of primary care physicians (PCP) have validated this effort, viewing advanced medical imaging as valuable to quality patient care, according to a survey published online Jan. 26 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

After decades of rapid growth, medical imaging utilization trend has slowed. Despite this, the authors, including Christine M. Hughes of the Hadley Hart Group in Chicago, claim the calls to reduce payments and utilization of advanced imaging in Medicare continue.

“If imaging utilization has increased, likely it has been requested with increased frequency; thus, the perspectives of ordering physicians may have important policy implications,” the researchers wrote.  “We aim to illuminate those implications by gaining a better understanding of referring physicians’ perceptions of the value of advanced imaging and their rationale for its use.”

For the study, the authors surveyed 500 PCPs using a self-administered online questionnaire with questions that focused on advanced medical imaging and its perceived value in patient care.

The survey results showed that the majority of responding PCPs indicated that advanced imaging increases their diagnostic confidence (88 percent). Additionally, it provides them details they might not otherwise have access to (90 percent) enables better clinical decision making (88 percent) and increases treatment choice confidence (88 percent).

The survey also found that 85 percent of the responding PCPs believe that patient care would suffer without access to advanced medical imaging.

Interestingly, PCPs whose careers span before the rapid growth of imaging technologies (careers longer than 20 years) assigned higher value to advanced imaging in several categories compared with their peers whose training occurred within the technology expansion.

“We interpret the difference as an indication that imaging technology is increasingly taken for granted by those who know no other way of practicing medicine,” the authors wrote.

The authors also noted the possible lack of understanding many physicians have related to the costs of services they provide or request. Although not the focus of their survey, Hughes and colleagues noted that their Medicare-allowable pricing question that related to brain MRI indicated a need for further investigation regarding the understanding of imaging costs.

“If physicians routinely overestimate the costs of imaging by 2- or 3-fold, then if they are educated with accurate information about real costs, they may in fact value imaging even more,” Hughes and colleagues concluded.