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Frequent Use of Double CT Scans Raises Radiation Worries

Jun 20, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

Thousands of Medicare chest patients throughout the country may have undergone unnecessary double CT scans, according to a report from The New York Times.  The report adds to a growing mountain of evidence that indicates Americans are being needlessly exposed to unhealthy amounts of radiation though medical imaging.

Double CT scans involve two scans - one with contrast dye and one without - administered consecutively on the same day.  Guidelines from the American College of Radiology indicate that there exist very few reasons to perform a double CT scan.  And according to the Times, most major university hospitals seem to avoid routine use of double CT scans, performing the procedure on less than 1 percent of their patients.

But according to review of 2008 Medicare records performed by The New York Times, Medicare chest patients at some facilities were undergoing double CT scans almost 80 percent of the time. The procedures cost the government insurance program $25 million that year.  The Times found that double CT scans were most likely to be performed at small, community hospitals; however, some larger hospitals were also found to have subjected Medicare chest patients to a high number of double scans.

This is especially concerning from a health standpoint, as just a single CT scan exposes patients to 350 times the radiation of a traditional x-ray.

“The primary concern relates to radiation exposure,” Dr. James A. Brink, chief of diagnostic radiology at Yale-New Haven Hospital, told the Times. “It is incumbent upon all of us to limit it to the amount needed to make a diagnosis.”

Unfortunately, the true number of patients who receive double CT scans is probably much higher than the Medicare numbers indicate.  While the federal government tracks those patients, no one is counting the number of scans performed on people with private insurance, Medicaid, or no health coverage at all.

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