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1 Of 6 Docs Has Advanced Imaging Equipment

December 29, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Medical Ethics, Practice Management
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One of every six physicians reported that their practice owned or leased advanced imaging equipment in 2008, according to a national study released last week by the Center for Studying Health System Change.

The study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, notes that the federal Stark Act, which bans physician self-referrals of Medicare and Medicaid patients for radiology services, makes an exception if the service is provided within the physician’s office or practice.

“Given the growing evidence that physician self-referral contributes to unnecessary and costly care,” the study speculates, “policy makers might reconsider the broadness of the in-office ancillary service exception to the Stark law.”

The study also notes that the health reform law requires physicians who refer Medicare and Medicaid patients for MRI, CT scans, and other advanced imaging services within their practices must, starting Saturday (January 1), disclose their financial interest and provide patients with a list of alternative suppliers.

The center, which is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research, describes itself as “a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nation’s changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy.”

It surveyed 2,750 physicians practicing in community-based, physician-owned practices. Overall, the number of such practices who reported owning or leasing various types of equipment totaled 25.2 percent for clinical laboratory equipment (including equipment for routine blood work), 22.7 percent for X-ray machines, 17.4 percent for advanced imaging devices, 28.9 percent for noninvasive testing equipment (including echocardiogram, treadmill, nuclear testing, and sleep testing equipment but not including electrocardiogram equipment), and 11.4 percent for invasive testing equipment, such as endoscopy or cardiac catheterization equipment.

Having advanced imaging equipment was most common among surgeons (30.3 percent) and least common among pediatricians (4.8 percent). Primary-care physicians treating adults were most likely to have X-ray equipment (27.1 percent), followed closely by surgeons (27.0 percent). Again, pediatricians were least likely to have X-ray equipment (14.5 percent).

Not surprisingly, the larger the practice, the more likely that it would have X-ray or advanced imaging equipment.  Percentages ranged from 9.5 percent for X-rays, 6.7 percent for advanced imaging among practices with just one or two physicians to 62.4 percent for X-rays and 52.9 percent for advanced imaging among practices with more than 50 physicians.

Related seminar: The Business of Radiology


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