Hospitals Are Needlessly Irradiating Their Patients

Medicare outpatient claims for 2008 are showing that thousands of Medicare patients received unnecessary double CT scans that year. The practice not only costs the Medicare program millions of dollars, but exposes patients to potentially dangerous doses of radiation.

Claims for 2008 were the most recent forms available, but those who've seen the numbers believe the practice has gone unchecked. According to the Times:

In 2008, about 75,000 patients received double scans, one using iodine contrast to check blood flow, and one that did not.

Some hospitals were doing this 80% of the time for their chest patients. Medicare officials and radiologists agree that that's way too high, as the need for performing that kind of double procedure—such as for detecting elusive tumors—is rare at best. Rates as high as even 30% are considered unacceptably high, especially when the national average is 5.4%. What's more, Medicare paid out $25 million to hospitals doing double scans.

The reason behind the practice is murky, though, as it doesn't fall so neatly into the "hospitals need money" category. One theory is the differing opinions among physicians regarding the kinds of care their patients need. Some facilities, particularly in small rural communities, might perform the two tests as a means of evaluating their patients quickly and efficiently. Double scanning is also popular among younger, privately insured patients.

Ultimately, it becomes a matter of changing doctors' opinions about when such tests should be administered. That kind of debate takes time. [NYT, Image Credit: Li Wa/Shutterstock]