HealthCare.gov Compares Imaging Usage Rates

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) updated July 7 HealthCare.gov’s Hospital Compare website with quality data on the rates of outpatient magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for low back pain, outpatient re-tests after a screening mammogram, and two ratios that explain how frequently outpatient departments gave patients “double” computed tomography (CT) scans “when a single scan may be all that is needed.”

“This new update to CMS’ Hospital Compare feature will help patients and their families better compare quality at America ’s hospitals. And thanks to this new update this year,  for the first time, Medicare patients can see how efficiently facilities use certain types of imaging equipment and keep them safe from exposure to potentially harmful radiation that may not be necessary,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

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Acting Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said that this new information, required to be made public by the Tax Relief and Healthcare Act of 2006, will help patients and their families better understand “the risks associated with these technologies and talk with their doctors about which hospitals are most likely to help patients reduce those risks.”

“On average, 1 in 3 Medicare beneficiaries receive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of their lower back when they complain of pain, rather than trying more recommended – and potentially safer – treatment first, such as physical therapy,” according to an HHS press release. “While most practitioners use imaging technology, such as MRI, safely and effectively to diagnose or treat disease, studies show that overusing MRIs for lower back pain could cause patients unnecessary stress, risk, and cost.”

According to Hospital Compare, 27.6 percent of outpatients treated for low back pain at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz. had an MRI without trying recommended treatments first. Outpatients treated for low back pain at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City had an MRI 44.4 percent of the time without first trying recommended treatments. The website informs consumers that a high percentage may indicate the facility “is doing too many unnecessary MRIs for low back pain.”

In addition to the four imaging efficiency measures, Hospital Compare now includes four heart attack-related measures and two surgery-related measures on which hospital outpatient departments report.

CMS also has updated quality data for outcomes of inpatient hospital care. The update includes new 30-day mortality rates and 30-day readmissions rates for inpatients admitted with heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia. These rates encompass three years of claims data (from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2009).

HHS suggests patients and caregivers use the website to help them discuss plans of care with their trusted health care providers.

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One Response to “HealthCare.gov Compares Imaging Usage Rates”

  1. Helen R. says:

    These are interesting statistics. However, there are many contributing factors that have not been addressed with these numbers. That is why we beneift from individual medical attention from a physician. He or She is looking at the whole person, has taken a history which may include contributing factors on why a MRI was first choice for diagnosing the cause of an individual’s lower back pain. We are not statistics, and we all know that statistics can be manipulated to give a desired view. This case definitely needs to have more variables identified before any meaningful conclusions can be drawn.

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