By Katherine Harmon
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More and more physicians are investing in their own imaging equipment. But when a doctor stands to make money on each MRI he or she orders, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that they might be inclined to order too many scans.
Patients with back problems whose orthopedic surgeons referred them for an MRI were much more likely to have their spinal lumbar scan come back clean—indicating that the test might not have been necessary—if their doc had a financial stake in the equipment being used, than if he or she didn’t, according to new findings that were presented this week at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting in Chicago.
“It is important for patients to be aware of the problem of self-referral and to understand the conflict of interest that exists when their doctor orders an imaging exam and then collects money on that imaging exam,” said Ben Paxton, a radiology resident who led the study at Duke University Medical Center in a prepared statement.
Of 250 spine lumbar MRIs ordered by orthopedic surgeons who had financial interest in the imaging equipment, 106 scans came back negative—that is, without serious abnormalities. Of the 250 lumbar MRIs ordered by orthopedic surgeons in the same area who would not see an extra penny from the scans, 57 came back negative.