Did you know that not all magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams are of equal quality? Walmart officials know this, and they are concerned that poor exams given to their employees are costing the company money. Because people with multiple sclerosis are likely to have several MRIs over the course of our disease, we should also be concerned, because poor exams could be costing us our health.
According to Kaiser Health News, Walmart officials have discovered that about half of the company’s workers who had back surgery over the past few years actually didn’t need it. The reason for the misdiagnoses: errors in their CT scans and MRIs. So Walmart, whose health plans cover more than a million people in the U.S., is trying to do something about it.
Company officials identified 800 imaging centers across the U.S. that they consider “high quality.” When a Walmart employee needs an MRI or a CT scan, they are encouraged to use one of the high-quality centers, even though the scans may cost more than they do elsewhere. In the end, company officials believe that by improving the quality of the diagnostic tests, Walmart will reduce unnecessary treatments and save money. If an employee decides not to use one of the 800 selected imaging centers, they will be required to pay a higher cost-share for the test.
‘A lot’ of imaging errors
According to KHN, “studies show a 3% to 5% error rate each workday in a typical radiology practice, but some academic research has found mistakes on advanced images such as CT scans and MRIs can reach up to 30% of diagnoses.”
“There’s no question that there are a lot of errors that occur,” Dr. Vijay Rao, chairwoman of radiology at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, told KHN. Rao said many causes of the errors exist, including technicians who misposition patients in the machine, inexperienced radiologists reading the scans, or radiologists who are rushed or tired.
Walmart hired Covera Health, a health analytics company, to locate the 800 preferred imaging centers. Covera uses independent radiologists to review doctors, equipment, and imaging protocols at centers. It also calculates an error rate for each facility.
But we don’t see the error rates
Most of us probably don’t think about the quality of our MRIs. Even if we did, there’s probably little we could do to determine which imaging centers provide the most accurate results. The KHN story said that the American College of Radiology has an accreditation program, but it doesn’t evaluate diagnostic quality. Though the centers themselves review the reports their radiologists write, these reviews aren’t available to patients.
As important as MRI results are to multiple sclerosis diagnosis and treatment, it would be extremely useful to know the quality of the facilities providing imaging services. Bravo to Walmart for demanding quality.
It would seem that improving quality care while saving money is a win-win. So, why don’t more employers and insurance plans follow Walmart’s lead and do the same?
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