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CT Scans, MRI Not to Blame For Rising Health Costs

These pricey tests may actually shorten hospital stays, study finds

MONDAY, May 30, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Many health-care industry experts have placed some of the blame for soaring health-care costs on the increasing expense of hi-tech diagnostic imaging tests, such as CT scans and MRI.

But a new study finds cost increases for these tests have stayed in line with other hospital costs, and might actually help shorten hospital stays for patients.

The findings run counter to claims that diagnostic imaging has replaced prescription drugs as the driver of increasing hospital health-care costs.

"It's hard to say that diagnostic imaging is driving hospital costs when imaging costs have increased at approximately the same rate as other expenses in health care," study author Dr. G. Scott Gazelle, director of the Massachusetts Genera Hospital (MGH) Institute for Technology Assessment and associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, said in a prepared statement.

Reporting in the June issue of Radiology, Gazelle's group reviewed hospital costs for more than 17,000 patients admitted to MGH between 1996 and 2002. While the number of diagnostic imaging procedures more than doubled over this time, the cost of diagnostic imaging as a percentage of total costs remained about the same, his team found.

The study also found that every additional $100 spent on imaging translated to an 0.26 day reduction in patient hospital stays. In other words, every additional $385 spent on imaging was associated with one less day in the hospital for the patient concerned.

"Those patients who had more imaging had less of a hospital stay. As doctors, we like to think that imaging leads to quicker diagnosis and treatment. Our results were encouraging and suggested that more spending on imaging does appear to be associated with a shorter hospital stay," Gazelle said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about scanning and imaging tests.

SOURCE: Radiological Society of North America, news release, May 24, 2005
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