Indeed, many urban hospitals and others may have to pick up the slack, and believe that's not necessarily a bad thing, allowing some hospitals to improve services and hire more technicians. So I asked Allen about more urban hospitals doing more radiology business at the expense of rural facilities.
"What you see is, obviously, some of this will get pushed to the hospitals. Is that a bad thing? Well, you don't know. Will it occur seamlessly? We don't know. In some places, hospitals aren't going to afford more scanners. It's very depressing."
Officials of the American College of Radiology say that medical imaging has been directly linked to greater life expectancy, declines in cancer mortality rates, and are generally less expensive than invasive procedures they replace.
The cutbacks, however, are coming during a controversial time for radiology, and that makes it a safer bet for politicians. Recently, the FDA issued an initiative designed to reduce unnecessary radiation exposure from CT, nuclear medicine studies, and fluoroscopy.
The combined procedures are considered the leading contributors to total radiation exposure in the US because they use higher radiation doses than others.
"I think CMS and Congress are in this mode, they want to see evidence that access to care is decreasing before they are convinced they have done enough cutting," says Allen.
As radiologists anticipate the budget cutbacks, Allen says, "We're trying to keep an eye on the big picture, and we're going to do what we can to ensure quality."
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