LOS ANGELES — Use of CT scans in hospital emergency rooms has risen 16 percent per year since 1995, raising questions about unnecessary radiation exposure and how health care costs can be contained against such fervent use of technology.
In a study released Monday in the journal Radiology, researchers found use of CT — computed tomography — procedures increased from 2.7 million nationwide in 1995 to 16.2 million in 2007. The new study joins several recent reports showing that the use of sophisticated imaging technology, and the cost associated with it, has grown rapidly.
Meanwhile, little research has been done to show if the popularity of CT scanning, which uses a focused beam of X-rays to provide a well-defined, cross-section view of soft tissues, has benefited patients.
"For people with serious illness, the risk of having a CT exam is outweighed by the benefits," said Dr. David Larson, lead author of the study and a radiologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. The hard part, he added, is when it's not clear whether the exam will help. "In the past that wasn't such an issue because CT wasn't as available as it is now and it wasn't as good as it is now. But it's increasing on both fronts."
At a cost of about $400 per body part scanned, it is now a tool for a wide variety of diagnoses.