Doctors may be overusing MRI facilities they own

Physicians are making unnecessary referrals for orthopedic knee-imaging tests at MRI facilities in which they have a financial interest and are driving up costs as a result, a new study has determined.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center concluded that patients referred for knee MRI exams by physicians who had a financial interest in the equipment had a far higher likelihood of getting negative results than if their referring doctors had no financial stake in the referral.

The findings are detailed in the journal Radiology. Known as "imaging self-referral," the practice is on the rise. The researchers say their findings prove that the practice has led to both greater MRI use and unnecessarily higher healthcare costs. They looked at orthopedic MRIs because the particular type of diagnostic imaging order is among the most common.

"This increase in unnecessary costs is of paramount importance in the current national conversation regarding health care cost and implementation," lead study author Dr. Matthew Lungren of Duke University Medical Center said in a statement.

For their work, the researchers looked at 700 consecutive MRI diagnostic knee exams from 667 patients at one radiology practice between January and April 2009. Two separate physician groups made the referrals--one with a financial stake in the MRI equipment, and another with no financial connection. The total MRI scans were divided evenly between both groups. Researchers found that knee MRI exams ordered by the group with a financial stake had a 33% greater chance of being negative for any problems. But there was no major difference in either group in the number of abnormalities per positive scan.

- read the release
- check out the journal abstract

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