Initial MRI Billing

By Janae Leach

Baker, L. C. “Acquisition Of MRI Equipment By Doctors Drives Up Imaging Use And

Spending.” Health Affairs 29.12 (2010): 2252-259. Web.

Some orthopedists and neurologists acquired their own magnetic resonance imaging equipment during the early 2000s. This paper looks at the changes in MRI use, as well as, the spending by patients for orthopedists and neurologists who began billing for MRI scans between 1999 and 2005. The results of the study show that physicians ordered a lot more scans once they began billing for MRI. For example, once orthopedists began billing for MRI, the number of MRI procedures used within thirty days of a first visit increased by about thirty-eight percent. Other spending for certain aspects of health care rose too besides the MRI spending increase for patients. There are at least two explanations for increases in physicians’ beginning to bill for an MRI. One is the increased convenience that comes with equipment purchase. Reducing the physician’s burden of making a referral, sparing the patient the trouble of making another appointment and showing up at another location may have encouraged more use of the MRI. A second possibility is that financial incentives play a role. During the time period of this study, the level of Medicare payments made MRIs performed in physician offices profitable.

Attention should be paid to ensuring that advanced medical equipment purchased for physician practices is used appropriately. After reading this article, further investigation of health outcomes would be needed to acquire direct evidence about whether there are any health benefits that were associated with the increased use of MRI. The convenience benefits in this study are clear, but they do not seem that substantial.


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