The piper calls the tune, and for the advanced medical imaging industry that tune is Neil Young’s "After the Gold Rush." For the first time in more than 10 years, imaging volumes declined in 2009.
The flow of advanced imaging services delivered to Medicare beneficiaries swelled to a cascade during the last decade as newer, digitally-enhanced advances in rendering images crossed paths with ever-more -sophisticated computer-aided data crunching. Although the 2009 slip was small at a mere 0.1 percent compared with 2008, another number is even more forbidding: Overall imaging services (not just "advanced") dropped 7.1 percent during that time, according to a report by the Moran Company. The Washington, D.C.-based research group analyzed Medicare claims data from 1999 to 2009 for the report.
"It’s pretty clear the era of very rapid growth in advanced medical imaging seems to have come to an end," president Don Moran told AuntMinnie.com. “All the data point to a leveling. It’s unclear whether we will see further declines, but the prior growth of these modalities and the advantages they offer to clinicians seems to be peaking."
Spending grew both for advanced procedures (up 1.2 percent) and for more run-of-the-mill services (up 2.6 percent), but the imaging industry was among "the slowest-growing segments of the physician fee schedule in 2009," Moran said — another sign that the sector is losing steam.
Industry insiders attributed the decline in the volume of advanced imaging — think CT, MRI, and PET scans — to reimbursement rate cuts for imaging services. And more cuts are on the way, thanks to healthcare reform. The insiders told AuntMinnie.com that advanced imaging’s declining volume could lead to access problems for patients. (And it probably won’t help industry executives’ bank accounts much, either.)