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Imaging testing for Oregon patients may be leveling off

Clinical imaging techniques, such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds and sonograms, have undergone significant technological advances. However, recent data suggests that the growth rate of physicians ordering such imaging may be slowing or leveling off, which may impact how patients in Oregon are treated.

According to data from 6 large HMOs, the growth rate in physicians ordering computed tomography scans began to slow between 2005 and 2008, and it has flattened since 2008. Although radiology errors might be a possible factor for the decline, others interpret the data as a response to research demonstrating a link between radiation exposure from medical testing and cancer. The research may have sensitized more doctors to the potential risks of imaging techniques, or perhaps made them more communicative in discussing radiation risks with patients, resulting in fewer patients opting for imaging procedures. Cuts in Medicare payments for imaging may also be a factor.

Despite the risks, imaging techniques will likely continue to play a large role in medical care. When used wisely, advocates for imaging techniques emphasize the technology has benefits not available with traditional techniques, such as replacing unnecessary surgical procedures. Physicians can also adapt their imaging practices to the research findings by ordering less frequent testing and reducing the amount of radiation used per test.

Of course, the risk of any technology can be increased by improper use. The human eye is still a prerequisite in the analysis of many imaging test results, which invites the possibility of error or misdiagnosis. For example, radiology errors may include the failure to detect tumors, broken bones, aneurysms, pulmonary embolisms or blood clots, or ruptured, herniated or fractured disks. Injuries may also result from communication errors or lost images between the radiology department and your treating physician. Complications may also arise from dangerous drugs used in the imaging process, such as dyes and sedatives.

If you have been injured by a radiology error, an attorney can review the facts of your case and determine whether you may be entitled to a recovery.

Source: American Medical News, "CT orders level off as awareness of radiation risk grows," Kevin B. O'Reilly, June 25, 2012

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