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NorthSide Reaction

CMS report: Many hospitals still overuse CT technology

Last week, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a report that covered a variety of hot health topics, including how the public can make more informed choices about their health care. The organization also released data on the issue of repeat CT scan use in hospitals.

This latter point has not received much news coverage, but it is perhaps one of the biggest issues addressed in the report.

According to the CMS data from 2009 released on Medicare’s Hospital Compare website, in general hospital scores in the proper use of CT scans did not significantly improve year to year, meaning many patients are still unnecessarily exposed to radiation. This is despite clinical guidelines recommending that the test be used sparingly, and extensive media coverage in the last year (which was covered in a post on the NorthSide Reaction blog last summer).

In fact, many hospitals in the nation are still using “double CT scans” which involves a patient receiving two consecutive imaging tests to ensure all complications are indentified. In the past few years, the CMS has labeled double CT scans as an overuse of medical imaging equipment.

Fortunately, some Chicago hospitals are taking steps to avoid this.

Swedish Covenant Hospital has one of the lowest rates of repeat scans in the area. The hospital attributes these low rates to specific protocols that ensure every CT order is tracked and assessed for appropriateness. Additionally, scans that the staff deems necessary are done using the nation’s latest model of CT scanner (Siemens Flash), which reduces radiation exposure by up to 91 percent.

Swedish Covenant Hospital is currently the only in Chicago to use this technology, but other hospitals will soon offer it as well.

Dr. Bruce McNulty, director of the ER and emergency medicine physician at Swedish Covenant Hospital, said the most important lesson to take from these numbers is that patients and hospital technicians and physicians need to be more conscientious about radiation risk.

"Patients should always ask questions when told they need repeat scans," McNulty said.


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