Defensive medicine driving up wasteful imaging

Defensive medicine is the main culprit for wasting up to nearly $12 billion on unneeded imaging exams each year in the U.S., according to a survey done by peer60, a research company based in American Fork, Utah.

The survey of 196 hospitals and health systems found that 92 percent respondents said defensive medicine was a reason for unneeded imaging exams.

“The cost of unnecessary imaging in the United States is at least $7.47 billion each year and may be as high as $11.95 billion annually,” the survey’s authors said.

Imaging exams overall account for $100 billion of the $2.8 trillion spent each year on healthcare in the U.S., according to the report.

Other factor cited by respondents as having an impact on unnecessary imaging were patient demand (65 percent of respondents) and doctors’ unfamiliarity with tests (60 percent).

Although physicians’ reimbursement wasn’t included on the survey, the report said it also pushed up unneeded imaging. “The reasons are exacerbated by a payment model that encourages volume over quality.”

However, a trend toward quality-based reimbursement models should help, the report added.

A majority of those surveyed said reducing unneeded medical imaging was a “top strategic priority. “  Only 16 percent said reducing the waste was not, because they had already put in place a home grown system to correct the problem. None of those surveyed mentioned a vendor.

In managing imaging services within an organization, 31 percent used an accountable care organization and 29 percent used a radiology benefits manager. The rest supplied other ways of managing imaging services, such as contracting with an outside radiology group.

The chief medical officer made up the majority (68 percent) of those surveyed; 19 percent were department heads, six percent were chief medical information officers, four percent were attending physicians and one percent were directors.

The report’s authors said specific solutions could eliminate the waste, “namely aligning reimbursements with results, and perhaps most importantly providing doctors with easy-to-use technology that will enable them to order the right exams.”