Wednesday, June 3, 2009

ResearchBlogging.orgIhave posted several articles on the overuse of imaging in musculoskeletal care (find them here, here, here, and here). Now we have another study from the Archives of Internal Medicine making not only that statement but going as far as speculating that this is related to financial gain, improved patient satisfaction, and potential for more harm that good.

In a news release from Musculoskeletal Report, the study found:

Patients were more likely to undergo imaging tests if their primary care physician worked in large practices and if the doctor was offered patient satisfaction-based financial incentives. Practices with clinical quality-based incentives, however, were less likely to order advanced imaging tests for low back pain patients in the absence of clinical red flags.
Additionally, the article reports on the potential harm of advanced imaging stating:
...advanced imaging of the spine has a low yield of unexpected findings and an “alarmingly high” yield of irrelevant findings.
I'm sure, as physical therapists, we see the fallout from this. More and more patients are presenting in the clinic with simple low back pain (simple meaning no neurologic, systemic, or lytic component - not low in pain) with no treatment beyond narcotics and muscle relaxants and MRI in hand. Now we not only have to try to get them better after 4-6 weeks of prior ineffective treatments, we also have to convince them that all the irrelevant findings (disc bulge, DDD, foraminal stenosis in now way associated with their complaints, etc) are not the problem and will not result in death, or worse, disability.

It seems everyone knows we shouldn't be doing this. Now we just need to convince the gate keepers with their own imaging labs to not perform these unnecessary, revenue generating, insurance companies turn a blind eye to, procedures. I'm sure there will be no difficulty in that.

Jason L. Harris

Hoangmai H. Pham, Bruce E. Landon, James D. Reschovsky, Beny Wu, & Deborah Schrag (2009). Rapidity and Modality of Imaging for Acute Low Back Pain in Elderly Patients Archives of Internal Medicine, 169 (10), 972-981

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