MRI, CT scan use continues to rise, in spite of health risks

Sept. 3 (UPI) — In spite of calls from health professionals to reduce the overuse of medical imaging — and lower the health risks it carries — the number of computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scans is still on the rise in the United States, a new study says.

The number of CT, MRI and ultrasound scans rose between 1 percent to 5 percent from 2012 and 2016, according to research published on Tuesday by Journal of the American Medical Association.

After overall use of medical imaging slowed in the early 2000s, it bounced back up between 2009 and 2013, researchers report.

“Medical imaging is an important part of health care and contributes to accurate disease diagnosis and treatment, but it also can lead to patient harms such as incidental findings, overdiagnosis, anxiety and radiation exposure that is associated with an increased risk of cancer,” lead author Rebecca Smith-Bindman, a researcher at the University of California at San Francisco and study lead author, said in a news release.

The research included insurance data from HMOs and PPOs with fee-for-service plans for up to 21 million adults and pediatric patients from seven U.S. care systems and Ontario, Canada. In all, the study compiled 135.7 million examinations.

The findings showed MRIs and CT scans were particularly higher in recent years. In the U.S., there were 51 MRI scans for every 1,000 older adult patients in 2016, for example.

Between 2000 and 2005, nearly 10 percent of the elderly received CT scans — before dropping under 1 percent from 2006 to 2011. That number crept back up to 3 percent of annual growth through the last five years.

While the overall imaging numbers were up, CT scans for children did fall between 2009 and 2013 and have held steady since. All other imaging numbers for kids, however, continued to rise.

Imaging tests are impacting younger people just as much as older people. A separate study found CT scans have increased by four times since 1996, placing unborn children and mothers at risk for a number of ailments.

To confront the problem of overtesting, medical experts rolled out the “Choosing Wisely” initiative in 2012, a campaign designed by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation endorsed by 85 medical organizations.

“Although most physicians are aware that imaging tests are frequently overused, there are not enough evidenced-based guidelines that rely on a careful consideration of the evidence, including information on benefits and harms that can inform their testing decisions,” Smith-Bindman said. “In the absence of balanced evidence, the default decision is to image.”

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