Most CT Scans are unnecessary

CHICAGO (Reuters) – More than half of patients receiving abdominal CT scans, an advanced type of X-ray, got them for tests they did not need, exposing them to excess radiation that could raise the long-term risk of cancer, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison team led by Dr. Kristie Guite studied 978 CT scans of the abdomen and pelvis done on 500 patients that were sent to the university to be interpreted. They used American College of Radiology guidelines to determine whether they were appropriate.

They found that 52.2 percent of the patients were found to have had CT scans that were unnecessary. The average excess radiation dose per patient was 11.3 millisieverts, about the equivalent of 113 chest X-rays.


Some patients got a lot more radiation than others. In one in five patients, the dose was 50 millisieverts, enough to raise some concerns about health problems, Guite said. Seven of the 500 got 100 millisieverts of radiation, a level known to raise the risk of cancer.

“At the dose seen in our study, one in 1,000 patients could get a radiation-induced cancer,” Guite told the meeting.

“This could lead to up to 23,000 radiation-induced cancers per year,” she said.

Dr. Louis Hinshaw of the University of Wisconsin who worked on the study said many institutions may be doing the extra studies for good measure, or because their machines are automatically set to do them.

But he said it was possible some centers were doing the extra scans because they may get paid more for them.

So what’s the big deal? Sounds like good business practice to me.

You charge patients to have unnecessary CT scans, so you can recover some of the uncompensated and under reimbursed care you provide, while increasing the risk of cancer for those that have the tests, creating potential new sources of revenue in the future.

That’s the free market health care system at its finest!


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