This is a review of 2.5 years worth of lower back pain. Basically, every single patient with an ICD-9 code had their chart reviewed to ask the question, “If you got an MRI in the ED, are you less likely to return?”
They specifically did not look at yield, rather, just whether or not patients initially thought to have plain, old back pain came back.
The answer, contrary to those of us who think more is more, is no. Repeat visits for those that had an MRI was 4.3%, repeat visits for those without an MRI at initial visit- 4.6%
However, it does give you some insight into who returns – they were more likely male (5.9% vs 2.8%) – further demonstrating that males are in fact the weaker sex. They were more likely English speaking (4.9% vs 2.1%) and, speaking of which, non-English speakers were less likely to have an MRI (12.2% vs 7.4%), and self-pay patients were also less likely to have an MRI (9.8% vs 5.1%). Its unclear if this further demonstrates a touch of bias on the provider side, if English-speaking patients speak up more about wanting diagnostics, or if non-English speakers just go to another hospital since this was a single center study.
As a secondary measure, they also looked at disposition for these patients. Only 16% were discharged after MRI (vs 82% of those without MRI), 74% of those MRI’ed were placed in observation status (vs 11% of those not), 9% of those MRI’ed were admitted vs 3%, and 4% of those not MRI’ed left prior to completing treatment. Now, for some fancy math.
of the 797 patients who received an MRI over this time period, if only 11% were placed in obs status (rather than 74%), that is only 88 patients rather than 591 patients placed in obs status. that’s 503 patients with an unnecessarily padded bill. At $35.8013 per RVU, were talking tens of thousands of dollars billed that’s wasted.
Or, to put it another way, if you are in an area with a good payor mix, why not just obs & MRI them all?