Medical imaging for diagnosis has been proven to save lives and decrease healthcare costs. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, and computed tomography (CT Scans) are essential to the diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of lesions, cancer, and many other serious conditions. However, in the past few decades, the United States has experienced increased costs in diagnostic radiology, thus leading some to revisit the value of medical imaging.
Recently, researchers in the field have sought to understand how the general public values information provided via medical imaging. The results from these studies show that the American public agrees that imaging tests are essential for diagnosis despite their cost.
Americans See the “Value of Knowing” More About their Health
In May 2013, Siemens published a study which showed that 92 percent of Americans felt that they need to have up-to-date information regarding their own health was as important as actually having access to a physician.
Other results provided insights into when Americans see the value in medical imaging:
- Almost nine in ten Americans (87%) agree that ruling out a diagnosis can save money in costly treatments that may not have been needed.
- Roughly two-thirds (66%) of Americans would even be willing to pay out of their own pocket for tests to diagnose serious illness if there were such a test but it was not covered by their insurance.
Commenting on the survey results, Dr. Gregory Sorensen, the CEO of Siemens Healthcare and a board-certified neuroradiologist said:
“There is simply a rational, financial and emotional value to knowing if you are sick. The survey findings show clearly that Americans want to know exactly where they stand when it comes to their health. As a physician, I know first-hand there is great value in excluding a diagnosis. This is a critical step to ensure that patients avoid unnecessary, expensive medical interventions. Medical imaging and diagnostic technologies were not developed to drive up costs. They were developed to improve health.
“Overall, we found these survey findings to be quite eye-opening. The results show that Americans, on the whole, are much more concerned about paying for medical care (72%) than about access to medical care (28%). At the same time, Americans have great faith in the benefits of medical testing and imaging as a means to a correct diagnosis. As a physician and as an executive responsible for the health insurance of thousands of our employees, I know that effectively used diagnostic tests can help more efficiently manage healthcare expenditures while providing patients with knowledge and peace of mind.”
Overall Utilization of Medical Imaging Is Increasing Amid Improved Access and an Aging Population
On Sept. 4, 2019, the American College of Radiology (ACR) shared a statement about new research that found imaging utilization increasing in the years 2000-2016. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, explored exam counts for MRI, CT scans and other imaging tests from 2000 to 2016 in the United States and Ontario, Canada. The JAMA study was authored by Rebecca Smith-Bindman, MD, from the department of radiology and biomedical imaging at the University of California San Francisco, and her colleagues.
The ACR statement emphasized that the tests typically occur in place of more invasive procedures:
“… despite an aging population and more people receiving care — the rate of growth of medical imaging use has decreased as technology has matured and doctors have become more educated on when to use these lifesaving exams…. Imaging exams are generally safer and cost less than invasive procedures they replace. Scans reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and length of hospital stays. Imaging is directly linked to greater life expectancy and declines in mortality. Americans with greater access to imaging live longer than those with lesser access.”
Doctors Must Overcome Increasing Hurdles When Ordering Exams
Deborah Levine, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and Richard Duszak Jr, MD, of Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, wrote an editorial on the findings from studying tests from 2000 to 2016. Their editorial was also published in JAMA. Dr. Levine and Dr. Duszak note that the increases have been seen during a time when there are increasing barriers to medical imaging, suggesting that doctors see great value in ordering the imaging exams despite the obstacles:
“The increasingly burdensome preapproval steps that some treating physicians need to navigate to order imaging studies are relevant. If physicians did not perceive imaging as necessary or valuable, perhaps they would just stop ordering it. A plausible explanation, then, for increasing use of advanced imaging is that the results of these tests continue to be perceived as improving patient care and outcomes…Knowing that imaging utilization is increasing is an important and necessary step toward the ultimate collective goal of knowing what medical imaging is appropriate. Counting imaging examinations is easier than measuring imaging outcomes, and that is why more work is needed. Studies such as this report by Smith-Bindman et al should serve to inspire and inform imaging researchers as they move their agendas from ‘how much’ to ‘how appropriate’ to ultimately ‘how patient outcomes are improved.”
Doctors Imaging Is Available When You Need to Know
We recognize that your medical imaging is just one part of your health care. And when you visit, we have confidence that you and your doctor are depending on high-quality images to help you take the next step towards your better health. We promise to give you and your doctor the best information possible from your imaging exam. At the same time, we are proud to offer MRIs, CT scans and other testing that is always more affordable than the hospital.
Interested in learning more about the value of medical imaging? Try these resources: