Mike Milliard posted a recent article on PhysBizTech on the study by the Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute that found that physicians are ordering fewer diagnostic imaging tests for Medicare patients, contradicting the belief that calls for imaging have been increasing. Previous studies have simply focused on spending information; however, this Neiman Institute study took a holistic approach. Researchers used federally collected Medical Expenditure Panel Survey information which allowed them to analyze physician decisions and actions during visits.

“This study should prompt a rethinking of the assumption that diagnostic imaging is a leading contributor to the nation’s health spending challenges,” the article attributed to Danny Hughes, one of the study’s authors. “When you look at the available evidence in a truly patient-centered way, understanding what occurs on a patient visit to the doctor, then you see that physicians are calling for less, not more, imaging tests.”

Their analysis found that the number of imaging exam orders following a physician visit for patients 65 years and up has been declining from 12.8% in 2003 to 10.6% in 2011.

Additionally, they found that Medicare spending per patient for imaging has gone down from $418 in 2006 to $390 in 2011.

This is important for seniors because the Deficit Reduction Act of 2006 has already imposed decreased payments for diagnostic imaging and further cuts to imaging reimbursement loom thanks to budget sequestration.

“We know from previous research that use of imaging leads to reduced rates of hospital readmissions, fewer unnecessary procedures, shorter hospital stays, longer life-spans, and lower mortality rates,” said Hughes. “As we look at imaging utilization and spending, we need to understand the whole picture of imaging’s relationship to health care cost trends and quality of care.”