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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU: Use of Diagnostic Imaging Falls Off, with Exception of Ultrasound

Outpatient use of advanced diagnostic-imaging tests such as MRIs declined in 2013 after earlier increases, with the exception of ultrasound tests, which continued to climb, a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers shows.

The study  in the Journal of the American College of Radiology found that the trend of increasing use of such imaging “seems to be over for some, but not all, imaging modalities” among privately insured patients. Outpatient utilization of CT scans and PET scans decreased between 2011 and 2013, while use of MRIs fell off in 2013 after climbing from 2010 to 2012.

In contrast, a rise in obstetric ultrasound procedures was largely responsible for what the authors called a “striking, consistent rise” in outpatient ultrasound use between 2011 and 2013.

The research team, using a national sample of more than 35 million health insurance beneficiaries, said the average adjusted payments per procedure for all four types of testing dropped in 2013, after rising in 2012. New competitive pressures from the early introduction of health insurance exchanges, as well as an “expanding share of consumer-directed and high-deductible health plans in the market” may have contributed to the drop in prices, the authors said.

“When patients pay a greater portion of medical care costs out of their own pockets, they are more likely to shop for more affordable options, or even change their mind about undergoing the imaging procedure, which would explain the drop in utilization of the more expensive imaging modalities, such as CT, MRI, and PET,” they said.

To read more about the study, go to: