One in Six Physicians Own or Lease Imaging Equipment

One in six doctors in physician-owned practices in 2008 said he or she owned or leased advanced-imaging equipment, raising concerns that physicians with a financial interest in the technology would make more referrals than necessary, according to a recent study.

One in six doctors in physician-owned practices in 2008 said he or she owned or leased advanced-imaging equipment, according to a recent study.

The Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan policy research organization in Washington, D.C., surveyed 2,750 physicians in community-based, physician-owned practices, and asked whether their main practice owned or leased equipment used for:

• laboratory testing, including routine blood work;

• X-rays;

• other diagnostic imaging, such as CT or MRI scans;

• non-invasive testing besides electrocardiograms, or EKGs (e.g. echocardiograms, treadmill, nuclear testing, sleep testing); and

• invasive procedures, such as endoscopy or cardiac catheterization.

Overall, almost one in seven physicians, or 13.2%, or physicians surveyed reported that their practice owned and/or leased three or more types of such equipment.

A little over 25% of those surveyed said their practices owned and/or leased equipment for laboratory services; 22.7% owned/leased X-rays; 17.4% owned/leased advanced-imaging equipment ; 28.9% owned/leased equipment for non-invasive procedures; and 11.4% owned/leased equipment for invasive procedures.

The report, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, N.J., raised concerns that physicians with a financial interest in advanced-imaging equipment would make more referrals than necessary, driving up healthcare costs. The Stark Act, which took effect in 1992, bars physician self-referrals of Medicare patients for clinical laboratory services, according to the report. The law was later expanded to cover Medicaid patients and other health services, including inpatient and outpatient hospital services and radiology services.

The study noted, however, that there are numerous exceptions to the self-referral prohibitions, including tests that are provided within a physician’s practice.

Read more about the study here.