Consumers Can Now Compare Hospitals On Medical Scans

The federal government recently handed consumers a new trove of data about how hospitals use their fancy medical scanners. The implicit message: Avoid hospitals that lean too heavily on devices that can expose you to radiation and other risks.

Data showing hospitals using multiple CT scans on patients’ abdomens and chests when a single scan might suffice, using MRIs for lower back pain, and doing follow-up mammograms were added to the government’s Hospital Compare website for the first time.

The data comes from 2008, and only reflects scans done on Medicare patients, but is a pretty good overview of what goes on behind the swinging doors.

Doctors have been worried for some time that, when it comes to scans, which can help detect problems quickly and early, patients may be getting too much of a good thing. Earlier this year, the federal government joined the bandwagon when the FDA said it would go after unnecessary scans such as CTs and X-rays because of patient safety concerns.

The new additions to Hospital Compare show another government effort to curb the overuse of scans, which in addition to radiating sick people can stress folks out and help rack up huge bills, the agency that runs Medicare said in a press release announcing the new data.

In Shots‘ hometown of Washington, D.C., Howard University Hospital led the field in MRIs. Doctors there ordered the potentially preemptive scans on half of their patients with lower back pain. Other area hospitals did so between 30 and 40 percent of the time.

Nearby Providence Hospital, on the other hand, was far more likely to double up on abdominal CT scans than other area hospitals. Their docs used double scans 57 percent of the time on outpatients.

By contrast, D.C.’s Washington Hospital Center used double scans on less than one in a hundred patients. The national average is 19 percent.

The Medicare agency says in many cases a single scan would do, and that the back-to-back scans may expose patients to needless radiation.