Imaging Self-Referrals Don't Reduce Sick Days, Costs

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , December 7, 2010

The authors looked at 733,459 episodes of care involving 470,530 unique patients age 65 or older.  Federal rules prohibit physicians from referring patients to a facility in which the doctor has a financial interest, but those rules exempt some ancillary services, including imaging, if they are delivered in a physician's office. Conditions evaluated ranged from back pain, headache, digestive neoplasms, heart disease, extremity fractures, dislocations, and respiratory disease.

With some exceptions when the test ordered was an X-ray, Hughes wrote, "Physician self-referral for imaging is not associated with significant benefits for patients in either illness duration or healthcare costs," they concluded.

For example, when physicians self-referred patients with sinusitus for X-rays in their offices, there was a 7.8% shorter duration of episode and 3.6% higher cost.  "This amounts to 1.3 illness-free days gained at a cost of $3.92."

"Medicare's current exemption for self-referred imaging should be narrowed so that it includes only X-rays, not other forms of imaging," the authors conclude.  "To the extent that state laws or private payers permit self-referral for imaging, they would also do well to follow this policy."

Hughes' finding is consistent with a 2005 report by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which looked at 22 medical condition—imaging combinations for Medicare beneficiaries in six major U.S. markets.  "Med-PAC found that self-referring physicians had higher ratios of observed-to-expected spending on imaging than doctors who did not self-refer."

In a second article, Sunshine and Bhargavan went further. They said that despite physician contentions that self-referral imaging provides same day-service, and thus convenience for patients, in fact that is only true for 74% of x-rays.  When ordering self-referral for more advanced procedures such as computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, only 15% of those tests are offered on the same day.

"Policymakers attempting to make the use of imaging more responsible should consider narrowing Medicare's special provision allowing referrals to a physician's own practice so that the provision covers x-rays only," they wrote.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Comments are moderated. Please be patient.




FREE e-Newsletters Join the Council Subscribe to HL magazine


100 Winners Circle Suite 300
Brentwood, TN 37027


About | Advertise | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Reprints/Permissions | Contact
© HealthLeaders Media 2015 a division of BLR All rights reserved.