by Michael Memberg, Esq.

A recent study co-authored by economists from GE Healthcare and MIT analyzed the trends in usage of MRI, CT, and PET scans during the late 2000s. As imaging technology developed through the 1990s and early 2000s, many factors led to the expansion of their usage. The new technologies were seen as low-risk, cutting edge tools to diagnose patients, not to mention the high reimbursement rates to hospitals and imaging centers. According to the new research, the growth of these cutting-edge imaging procedures has slowed, which suggests that the increased availability of technology does not necessarily lead to increasing health care costs.

According to the research, the reasons for the slowdown have involved changes in insurances plans, particularly related to prior authorization for the testing. Many of the cases studied involved back, elbow, and knee problems where doctors were opting for conservative treatment for injuries that appeared to be more temporary in nature. Additionally, there is increased concern for the risks of radiation from CT and PET scans that are causing some doctors to be more cautious in their use.

The research focused on data from Medicare and private insurance, but the trend may also start to show in workers’ compensation claims. Doctors are certainly not going to discontinue the use of imaging technology, but as their role continues to develop, doctors may be moving more toward a more comprehensive approach again, as opposed to ordering an MRI in every case.