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Study: Overtesting in ERs wastes nearly $4M each year

By Tauren Dyson
Study: Overtesting in ERs wastes nearly $4M each year
New research suggests thousands of diagnostic images taken at ERs could be avoided, saving millions of dollars per year. File Photo by Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

June 27 (UPI) -- While visits to the emergency department can save lives, they can also ring up high costs -- with just two tests racking up nearly $4 million dollars in avoidable spending -- a new study says.

A new collaborative, funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network, is working to reduce overtesting throughout the state in an effort to reduce unnecessary spending, according to research published Thursday in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

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"The emergency department is an essential care setting, treating over 145 million annual visits in the United States across a wide range of patients populations, from children to adults," Keith Kocher, a researcher at Michigan Medicine and study author, said in a news release.

The Michigan Emergency Department Improvement Collaborative, or MEDIC, is a statewide network of unaffiliated emergency departments throughout the state with an aim of enhancing the quality of medical care while reducing low-value emergency care.

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The MEDIC registry holds information on more than 1 million visits from 16 emergency departments around Michigan.

For the study, the research team analyzed data from the clinical registry, specifically looking at imaging ordered for diagnosis. Estimates of excess imaging were calculated based on the Achievable Benchmark of Care method for determining quality improvement targets across a population.

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Two years ago, the researchers discovered the possibility of avoiding more than 5,700 unnecessary CT scans for minor head injuries and suspected pulmonary embolism, as well as more than 3,300 chest X-rays for kids with asthma, bronchiolitis or croup. They used the Achievable Benchmark of Care method to calculate the estimates for excessive imaging.

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These tests, the researchers say, cost $3.8 million annually in avoidable spending.

"Useful insight into how we continuously improve the quality of care we deliver only come from getting meaningful, credible data into the hands of those who can best act on it -- and oftentimes that means clinicians," said Michele Nypaver, a researcher at Michigan Medicine and study author.

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