Cancer fears as X-rays increase

| April 28, 2008

New Zealand’s Medicare is investigating a sharp rise in digital imaging procedures such as X-rays and CT scans amid fears that some tests could be putting patients at risk of cancer.

Government figures show the number of digital imaging tests conducted over the past five years has increased by 1 million to 4.8 million, taking the cost to the health system from $1.1 billion in 2002 to $1.6 billion last year.

Medicare’s fraud watchdog is concerned about practitioners rorting the system, but radiologists say unnecessary CT scans could also be exposing patients to cancer without good reason.

Some CT scans, including those of the chest and abdomen, carry a one-in-1000 risk of cancer per scan compared with a one-in-1 million risk for other X-ray procedures. The most common cancers associated with radiation are leukaemia, and thyroid and breast cancer.

Medicare’s head of fraud and compliance, Colin Bridge, said doctors had been caught ordering imaging procedures in recent years when they were not required or were premature in the clinical process. He declined to comment on how many doctors had been forced to repay Medicare for such procedures but said strict laws that came into effect last month had made it easier to investigate and prosecute practitioners for such rorts.

Mr Bridge said Medicare was also closely monitoring the "corporatisation" of general practices amid fears they may be more profit driven. He said the clinics, which usually employed their own radiology and pathology services, could be more prone to ordering unnecessary tests to boost income from Medicare benefits.

"We’re looking at the overall claiming patterns. Are there things that seem to be different in the way corporate practices work compared to other practices? If there is, we will be asking questions," he said.

Liaison radiologist for the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Radiologists, Catherine Mandel, said the profession was concerned about the increasing number of CT scans being conducted because of proven links between ionising radiation and cancer.

This story by Julia Medew was found at:

Category: Digital Pathology News, Radiology

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