05 Aug Unrestricted Access to Advanced Imaging a Top Priority for Consumers
ImagingEconomics | In a new article published in the August issue of Imaging Economics, researchers explore the reasoning behind U.S. adults’ selection of access to imaging as one of the most important characteristics of their healthcare plans, as found in an independent survey conducted by Harris Interactive. Specifically, the survey data show that “unrestricted access to all medical technologies such as MRI and CT” was the second-leading priority in individuals’ health insurance plan features, following only premium cost. This survey was conducted online in October and November 2010 among 2,052 U.S. adults aged 18-64.
The article, co-authored by Christine Hughes, a healthcare economist at GE Healthcare, and Debra Richman, vice president of healthcare strategy at Harris Interactive, surmises that U.S. adults place a high value on access to imaging for two key reasons. First, Americans associate advanced imaging with better quality of care. Second, they fear lack of access due to cost cutting measures, which may inappropriately limit access and in turn potentially compromise quality of care.
“In examining the survey findings, we found it particularly interesting that U.S. adults continue to place a very high value on access to advanced imaging modalities even in today’s environment of rising out of pocket co-pays,” said Richman. “In fact, consumers ranked unrestricted access to imaging over coverage of dependents, the ability to retain their current physicians, choice of hospital and coverage of brand name drugs – which we must assume can be due to a rising knowledge of the value of imaging in a variety of medical diagnosis and treatment scenarios.”
Recently published data pointing to the value of imaging to treatment and diagnosis include a study that appeared in the February issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology on the use of CT for patients in the emergency department at Massachusetts General Hospital experiencing abdominal pain. The information provided by CT results changed physician diagnoses for 49 percent of patients and change care management plans for 42 percent of patients. In addition, the number of patients who would have been held for observation decreased by 44 percent, and the number of planned hospital admissions was reduced by almost 20 percent.
“The Harris Interactive data certainly suggests that consumers consider access to advanced imaging as a benchmark of quality of care as they evaluate healthcare plans,” said Hughes. “Furthermore, it indicates that they are troubled about access to imaging, and that we should consider the growing concerns about policy changes that could restrict access to advanced imaging procedures.”
Current proposals addressing physician ordering of advanced imaging include a preauthorization requirement, which various patient advocates, physician organizations and the imaging community note could raise medical practice costs and delay or deny necessary care for patients. In a June report to Congress, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) recommended that the top 10 percent of imaging users receive permission from Medicare prior to ordering advanced imaging services and Congress is considering even wider use of prior-authorization.
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