Cutting back on $12B in unnecessary imaging

It’s no secret that some portion of medical imaging performed each year is unnecessary. The question is how much and, maybe more importantly, what can be done about it?

Another report out this week took a stab at quantifying the problem. Research and “smart data” company peer60, based in American Fork, Utah, survey nearly 200 hospitals and health systems, and pegged the proportion of imaging that is likely unnecessary at 12 percent. That amounts to up to $12 billion per year spent on imaging tests that had a flimsy clinical rationale for being performed.

When asked what was prompting these unneeded scans, the overwhelming majority of respondents (92 percent) said defensive medicine bore are least some of the blame, according to peer60. Patient demand and inexperience with tests were also high on the list of reported causes.

Some survey respondents, however, provided some reasons for optimism, with 16 percent saying that curbing unnecessary imaging isn’t a current priority because a solution was already in place to correct the problem. What was interesting is that all of these respondents said they found success using a mix of homegrown technology and process improvements without much support from outside vendors.

“It presents an incredible opportunity for innovative healthcare vendors to jump in and assist in providing a solution that will have a tremendous ROI,” read the report.

Most respondents relied on electronic exam ordering for the bulk of their imaging volume, and when it came to service-line management, 29 percent said they used a radiology benefits manager and 31 percent said they were part of an accountable care organization.

The tools and strategies for reducing unnecessary imaging are being developed, and it’s a positive sign that about 16 percent feel they have a working game plan in place. What happens with the other 84 percent is the $12 billion question.

-Evan Godt
Editor – Health Imaging