Orthopedic physicians who own or lease MRI equipment are more likely to refer patients for scans that may be unnecessary, according to a new study.
More negative MRI scans for docs who self-refer: study
The study, which was announced at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting in Chicago, looked at 500 lumbar spine MRI exams conducted by two orthopedic physician groups that serve the same community, according to an RSNA news release.
One group had a financial interest in the MRI equipment that was used and the other did not.
Orthopedic surgeons "were much more likely to order MRI exams on younger patients. This suggests that there is a different clinical threshold for ordering MRI exams in the setting of financial incentivization,” said Dr. Ben Paxton, radiology resident at Duke University Medical Center and a study author, in the news release.
The researchers found that 42% of the patients referred by the group with financial interest in the imaging equipment had negative scans, while 23% of the patients referred by the group with no financial interest in the equipment reported negative scans. There were 86% more negative scans in the group with a financial interest in the imaging equipment.
The study said there was no significant difference in the number of abnormalities found per positive scan, although the mean age of the patients referred by physicians with financial interest was younger by more than seven years than that of the patients referred by physicians with no financial interest in the imaging equipment.
Paxton noted that the process of self-referral, in which a physician orders imaging exams for a patient at a site where he or she has a financial interest in the imaging equipment, contributes to rising medical costs.
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