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Imaging Demand Forecast: Up, No Matter What

May 14, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Practice Management
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Demand for medical imaging will continue to increase no matter what happens with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), according to Regents Health Resources, a medical imaging consulting company in Franklin, Tennessee.

In an interview with imagingBiz, BrianBaker, Regents’ president, said:

There will be plenty of work if you want it. We’re going to need the leadership and involvement of the radiologist community to help us define how to accommodate patient access to health reform volume.

Baker pointed out that, according to a study by the medical staffing company Staff Care in late 2011, 46 percent of radiologists are 56 or older and thus nearing retirement age. That should mean increased demand for new radiologists and increased work for current radiologists to make up for staffing shortages.

He also cited data from the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA) indicating a 13 percent decline on per-beneficiary spending on imaging since 2006 and a 3 percent decline in Medicare imaging utilization in 2010. Those numbers contradict the notion that imaging is significantly overused.

And then there’s the PPACA. In late April, Regents forecast its potential impact for Radiology Business Journal. Assuming that the act’s current provisions remain in place, an estimated 31 million formerly uninsured people will become insured in 2015. That, Regents said, would trigger a 13.6 percent growth in imaging use nationally.

Imaging would increase the most in Texas (22.7 percent), the study found, and the least (3.7 percent) in Massachusetts, which already has near-universal health insurance coverage. The study predicted that MRI volume would grow faster than CT volume.

The predictions are for those under 65; the study removed those 65 or older because they are already covered under Medicare. It corrected for uncompensated care already delivered to the uninsured in emergency rooms and other settings. To counterbalance the effect of utilization management, which was considered likely to increase, the study did not take into account the impact of the aging of the population. Therefore, the study says, “these projections could be conservative.”

The study notes that certificate-of-need and construction regulations in some states “raise questions about whether those states have the capacity to address the needs of the new patients—and if not, whether capacity can be increased quickly enough to absorb the predicted volumes.”

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