CT Scans CAN Be Cost Effective (and Save Lives) in Emergency Situations

A recent study found that the use of CT scanners and other advanced imaging machines in U.S. hospital emergency departments “tripled between 1998 and 2007, resulting in higher costs and longer emergency room stays,” according to an article by blogger Julie Steenhuysen.

Lead researcher Dr. Frederick Korley of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore said his team noticed “a really significant increase [in usage] without a corresponding increase in the diagnosis of life-threatening illness.” He said this suggest that there is a “potential amount of overuse or use that is not directly yielding any meaningful clinical results.”

Actually, the use of all CT and MR from any source more than doubled during that time period.

Emergency rooms are under great pressure to diagnose or rule out serious conditions quickly, since every ER in the country is swamped with patients – many of whom cannot get to other forms of care. What is inappropriate in some settings may be appropriate in the ER setting.

In our study of patients with low-risk chest pain who had a cardiac CT early in their ER visit, patients were discharged 20 hours faster and with a 40 percent cost reduction compared to similar patients who had a workup without cardiac CT.

So it really depends on the indication.