Imaging may not be major driver of hospital cost increases

2 min read

“There have been several news stories and reports from insurers claiming that imaging costs are catching and even surpassing drug costs as major drivers of health care inflation,” says Scott Gazelle, M.D., MPH, Ph.D., and an MGH radiologist who is director of the Institute for Technology Assessment. “Those of us who work in imaging believe that its use should be celebrated, since imaging has truly transformed the way we deliver health care. But we also need to understand the value that imaging brings to health care; and when looking at its costs, we need to make sure our analyses are accurate.”

Gazelle and co-author Molly Beinfeld, MPH, analyzed billing records for patients admitted to MGH between 1996 and 2002. They reviewed data on more than 17,000 patients with diagnoses in areas typically utilizing imaging and compiled information regarding specific imaging studies that were carried out and their costs.

During the study period, the total number of CT scans and MRI studies more than doubled, reflecting increases in the number of patients in the groups analyzed. However, the contribution of imaging to the overall cost of care for these patients remained steady at about 10 percent.

“We actually expected that imaging would represent a higher percentage of costs, but this result makes it hard to say that imaging is driving increased overall costs,” says Gazelle.