According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR), a large majority of physicians believe that diagnostic imaging modalities such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET), provide significant value to patient care. The findings are based on a national survey of 500 primary care physicians.

“Primary care physicians are patients’ main point of contact with the healthcare system and often the end users of the information that radiologists provide. The fact that they consider imaging of such high importance shows just how vital these technologies are for quality patient care,” said lead author of the study Christine M. Hughes of the Hadley Hart Group.

The self-administered online questionnaire queried physicians from varying geographic regions, practice types, and experience levels about their attitudes toward diagnostic imaging. Participants ranged in age from 29 to 77 years old, with years in practice spanning 5 to 45. The average age of each respondent was 51.3 with an average of 19.4 years in practice.

Physicians overwhelmingly responded that advanced imaging shortens the time to definitive diagnosis (86%), increases diagnostic confidence (88%), and provides data not otherwise available (90%). In addition, they said medical imaging permits better clinical decision-making (88%) and increases physicians’ confidence in their treatment choices (88%). Among physicians whose careers began before advanced imaging was widely available, the perception of value was even higher.

“As this study demonstrates, the overall ability of advanced medical imaging to facilitate rapid and accurate diagnoses has contributed to primary care physicians’ (PCPs) perception of its value,” said Richard Duszak, MD, coauthor of the study and chief medical officer and senior research fellow at the Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute. “Advanced medical imaging facilitates patient triage, and for sicker patients, decreases the frequency of exploratory surgery, and shortens hospital lengths of stay. And PCPs clearly recognize that,” said Duszak.

The study revealed one misperception: more than half of respondents believed the Medicare reimbursement rate for a brain MRI to be two to three times the actual amount.

“Our theory is that these physicians may value advanced imaging even more if they knew the actual cost of the scan was half as much,” said Hughes. “Interestingly, the overestimation of costs by physicians in our study aligns with similar findings in another recent study in consumers.”

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