Overall imaging use has slowed — but ED rates still high

By Kate Madden Yee, staff writer

December 8, 2015 — Despite an overall slowdown in the rate of noninvasive diagnostic imaging in other settings, imaging use rates have continued to increase in the emergency department (ED), according to a study presented at the RSNA 2015 meeting by researchers from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

This finding suggests that the emergency room is the last frontier in the effort to reduce healthcare costs — specifically, unnecessary imaging — a project both the government and insurers have been focused on of late, Dr. Manisha Patel told

“Imaging use rates have continued to grow in the ED even though there has been an overall downtrend in utilization of advanced imaging services in every other venue, and even though imaging is no longer the fastest-growing component of physician services,” she said.

Why is emergency imaging growing?

Why do imaging use rates in the ED keep climbing? It could be because emergency departments are a significant source of medical care in the U.S. In fact, nationwide ED visits increased from 95 million per year in 1997 to nearly 140 million in recent years, which translates into higher imaging use rates, Patel said. Other factors include defensive medicine, dependence on technology, and the difficulty of evaluating complex patients under tight time constraints, she said.

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