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Double CT scan rates largely unchanged in 2009

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | August 09, 2011
The use of controversial double CT chest scans remained stable from 2008 to 2009, according to the latest Medicare data, falling only two-tenths of one percent.

The technique involves giving chest patients two scans, one without and one with contrast. National guidelines suggest a single CT scan is all that's required for most patients.

But a June report found in 2008 hundreds of hospitals used the scans -- which expose patients to double the radiation dose -- more frequently than perhaps they should. This sparked widespread coverage by the mainstream press, with local newspapers checking up on hospitals, using the Hospital Compare website, to see how they stacked against national averages.

When the reports came out, many hospitals vowed to change their protocols or said they were already altered since the data were published. But in 2009, it appears, the usage rates of the scans were largely the same.

According to Kaiser Health News, 5.2 percent of Medicare chest patients got double CT chest scans in 2009, only slightly down from the 5.4 percent in 2008. And nearly 625 hospitals performed the scans on one out of every 10 Medicare chest patients in 2009, similar to the previous year's figures.

All told, more than 71,000 patients received the double scans in 2009, according to Kaiser. That year, some 88 hospitals performed the scans on half of their Medicare chest patients. Spruce Pine Community Hospital in Spruce Pine, N.C. had the highest rate of scans, at 90.5 percent, and performed the outpatient procedure on 179 patients, according to the Hospital Compare website. The hospital told Kaiser in June that, being located in coal-mining country, staff take double-scans to be extra cautious when ruling out lung cancer.

Other higher users include East Texas Medical Center-Fairfield in Fairfield, Texas, at 85.6 percent; Avoyelles Hospital in Marksville, La. at 82.9 percent; and Memorial Center of Western Michigan in Ludington, Mich. at 82.7 percent.

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