Study: Use of CT scans rises 330 percent at emergency rooms
The use of CT scans in U.S. emergency rooms soared 330 percent from 1996 through 2007, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Health System.
Just 3 percent of ER patients received CT scans in 1996, while 14 percent of ER patients treated in 2007 received them, the study shows. One of the study’s authors, Dr. Keith Kocher, says that by 2007, about one-fourth of all CT scans performed in the United States were being done in ERs.
Kocher says that during the period covered by the study, ER visits increased by about 30 percent, while CT use climbed 330 percent — meaning the rate of CT use grew 11 times faster than the rate of ER visits.
The study doesn’t pinpoint the reasons for the rise in CT use in ERs.
“I think a lot of the increase is related to changes in how doctors practice medicine and the availability of CT scanners,” Kocher says. “They provide lots of information quickly, and so doctors and patients see CTs as a means of arriving at diagnoses efficiently and conveniently. Couple that with the fact that CT scanners are commonly housed in or near the (ER) itself, and the barriers to getting the test done are lower than in the past.”
According to the most recent Healthcare Transparency Index from a nonprofit group called change:healthcare, the average costs for the most common types of CT scans (abdomen and pelvis) ranged from $924 to $1,096. The group says more than 70 million CT scans are done each year in the United States.
Most health insurance plans cover CT scans.
A CT scan — also called computerized tomography or just CT — combines a series of X-ray views taken from many different angles to produce cross-sectional images of the bones and soft tissues inside your body, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The resulting images can be compared to a loaf of sliced bread, the Mayo Clinic says. Your doctor can look at each of these slices individually or perform additional visualization to make 3-D images. CT scan images provide much more information than regular X-rays do.
A CT scan is particularly useful in quickly examining people who may have suffered internal injuries from car accidents or other types of trauma, according to the Mayo Clinic. A CT scan also visualize the brain and — with the help of injected contrast material — check for blockages or other problems in your blood vessels.