How Valuable is Advanced Imaging to PCPs?

January 26, 2015

Advanced imaging provides good value, say primary care physicians, but how valuable varies by the PCP’s number of years in practice.

Many primary care physicians (PCPs) believe that advanced medical imaging adds considerable value to patient care, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Researchers from Illinois, New York, Virginia, and Georgia undertook a national quantitative survey to understand how PCPs saw the value of advanced imaging for their patients.

A total of 500 PCPs (mean age 51.3) drawn from an initial group of 2,229 physicians across the U.S. completed an online self-administered questionnaire. Seventy-eight percent of respondents were men, 22% women. Their mean number of years in practice was 19.4.

Practice breakdown:

Practice type 
Multispecialty32%
Single-specialty48%
Solo practice20%
Practice in large metropolitan area20%
Practice in suburban area46%
Practice in small towns or cities23%
Practice in a rural area10%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The physicians were asked to respond to 15 statements regarding their thoughts about advanced imaging (CT, MRI, and PET), such as:

• Provides unique data that are not otherwise available

• Shortens the time to definitive diagnosis

• Allows my patients to feel that they are receiving the best care possible

• Allows me to avoid ordering extra tests for my patients

• Allows me to see a greater number of patients

The results showed that 88% of the PCPs (441 physicians) stated that advanced imaging increases their diagnostic confidence, in addition to adding other value.

Benefit of advanced imagingNumber of physicians (N=500)Percentage of physicians 
Provides data not otherwise available45190%
Permits better clinical decision making44088%
Increases confidence in treatment choices43888%
Shortens time to definitive diagnosis43086%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, 85% of physicians (424) stated that they believe that patient care would be negatively affected without access to advanced imaging.

Older PCPs, those with more than 20 years of clinical practice, assigned higher value to advanced imaging than did younger physicians. The researchers noted that the technology was a part of the younger physicians career since they began practicing, so they were often more familiar with it.

Older PCPs compared with younger PCPs:

StatementNumber of PCPs with 20 years or fewer of practice who agreed (N=282)Number of PCPs with more than 20 years of practice who agreed (N=218)
Can replace invasive procedures195 (69%)184 (84%)
Quality of care my patients receive would be negatively impacted without advanced imaging228 (81%)196 (90%)
Allows me to make better clinical decisions240 (85%)200 (92%)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A total of 71 of the 282 younger physicians (25%) agreed to the statement: “Allows me to see a greater number of patients.” Only 26 of the 218 more experienced physicians (12%) agreed.

"Primary care physicians are patients' main point of contact with the health care system and often the end users of the information that radiologists provide. The fact that they consider imaging of such high importance shows just how vital these technologies are for quality patient care," lead author Christine M. Hughes, of the Hadley Hart Group, said in a release.

"As this study demonstrates, the overall ability of advanced medical imaging to facilitate rapid and accurate diagnoses has contributed to PCPs' perception of its value," co-author Richard Duszak, MD, chief medical officer and senior research fellow of the Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute, said in the same release. "Advanced medical imaging facilitates patient triage, and for sicker patients, decreases the frequency of exploratory surgery, and shortens hospital lengths of stay. And PCPs clearly recognize that."