Hospitals Endangering Patients with Double CT Scans

A recent NY Times article reports that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services continues to find that some hospitals are unnecessarily performing double CT scans on patients’ chests in order to increase the bill to the healthcare insurance providers. More specifically, the hospitals are performing one CT scan using iodine contrast and one CT scan without the contrast solution. Radiologists say one scan or the other is needed depending on the patient’s condition, but performing two scans in succession is rarely necessary. In addition to the effects this practice is having on health insurance costs and Medicare/Medicaid (over 25 million in 2008), the real concern has to be for the patients who are being unnecessarily exposed to additional radiation. For comparison purposes, two CT scans of the chest would be equal to approximately 700 standard chest X-rays.

While the typical percentage rate of performing two CT scans in succession with the same patient is less than 1 percent at major university hospitals and 5.4% nationally, some smaller community hospitals are performing double chest CT scans 80% of the time. This is extremely high considering that its is only in very rare instances where performing two chest scans actually help a doctor, as it allows the doctor to distinguish between tangled blood vessels and a tumor.

A February 2011 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that someone who has multiple CT scans or other diagnostic medical exams, especially close together, may have a higher lifetime risk of cancer than someone who doesn’t. Further, a 2007 New England Journal of Medicine article found that the accumulated effects of 2-3 CT scans could provide as much as 9,000 mrem of radiation, which is enough to increase a patient’s cancer risk.

With researchers and physicians recommending that individuals reduce their exposure to radiation and limit the number of x-rays and CT scans that they have per year, its inexcusable that some hospitals are ignoring these very real risks of cancer and subjecting patients to these unnecessary amounts of radiation.

If you’ve had double CT scans done at a recent hospital visit, contact Pogust Braslow & Millrood for a free consultation about protecting your rights.