Amidst growing concerns over healthcare costs, the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) offers a solution to help cut back on federal spending in its new report, “Imaging with CARE.” According to the report, an estimated $1.32 billion could be saved on nuclear and molecular imaging procedures over the next 10 years by taking steps to reduce the number of repeated scans due to poor-quality images.
Approximately 130 million diagnostic radiology procedures—including X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) and nuclear medicine scans—are performed on 30 million Medicare enrollees each year. According to the Government Accountability Office, nuclear and molecular imaging scans account for $2.4 billion in costs. With an estimated four to 7% of these procedures repeated due to poor imaging, Medicare spends $132 million in avoidable scans each year.
“Having to repeat a nuclear or molecular imaging scan because of the poor quality of the original image is something that shouldn’t happen and something that can be fixed,” stated Ann Marie Alessi, BS, CNMT, NCT, RT(N), president of SNM’s Technologist Section. “By ensuring that the technologists performing these scans have appropriate training and education, Congress can ensure that most of these repeated scans are avoided.”
Each year an estimated 17 million nuclear medicine and molecular imaging procedures are performed in hospitals and medical settings across the United States. Nuclear medicine procedures use radioactive substances to visualize the molecular processes through which the body functions. This provides physicians with unique data that can help personalize treatment for heart disease, cancer, brain disorders and other diseases.
Currently, only 30 states, as well as the District of Columbia,1 have certification or licensure provisions for nuclear medicine and molecular imaging technologists that require them to be certified by a national credentialing organization. Twenty states2 do not regulate this profession at all.
“Many state regulations also include continuing education requirements,” noted Alessi. “With new technologies upon us every year, it’s critical that nuclear medicine and molecular imaging technologists are up to date on the techniques needed to appropriately perform the imaging scans.”
Poor-quality scans can also result in misdiagnosis of disease, delays in treatment and needless anxiety for the patient. If additional testing is required, patients are exposed to an increased amount of radiation. While imaging can be an invaluable tool, the procedures do carry a potential health risk, and radiation can be harmful if administered improperly.
To improve the quality of medical imaging, the Consistency, Accuracy, Responsibility and Excellence in Medical Imaging (CARE) bill has been introduced on Capitol Hill. If enacted, this bill would establish minimum education and certification standards for personnel who perform nuclear medicine and molecular imaging procedures. As a result, institutions that provide medical imaging or radiation therapy to Medicare patients would be required to employ personnel who meet or exceed the standards set by the federal government.
The CARE bill is supported by the Alliance for Quality Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy, a group co-founded by SNM, its Technologist Section and the American Society of Radiologic Technologists in 1998. Since then, an additional 20 organizations have joined the alliance; together, the 23 groups represent more than 500,000 healthcare professionals. The bill currently has 89 cosponsors, and it is expected that companion legislation will be introduced in the US Senate.
“Individuals undergoing nuclear and molecular imaging should know that even in states that don’t have formal requirements, many technologists do hold certifications and are skilled in their profession,” added Alessi. Patients should be sure to discuss with their physician what the recommended imaging procedure entails and other pertinent details, as an informed patient is the best patient. Examples of potential questions include:
- Does my state require licensure for nuclear medicine technologists?
- Does the facility performing my scan require certification for nuclear medicine technologists?
- What type and dose of radiopharmaceutical will I receive as part of my examination?
- Are there any side effects of the radiopharmaceutical of which I should be aware?
To view the Imaging with CARE report, visit www.snm.org/CARE.
1 Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming.
2 Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin.
Source: Society of Nuclear Medicine