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Trends in use of medical imaging in US healthcare systems and in Ontario, Canada, 2000-2016


Importance — Medical imaging increased rapidly from 2000 to 2006, but trends in recent years have not been analyzed.

Objective — To evaluate recent trends in medical imaging.

Design, Setting, and Participants — Retrospective cohort study of patterns of medical imaging between 2000 and 2016 among 16 million to 21 million patients enrolled annually in 7 US integrated and mixed-model insurance healthcare systems and for individuals receiving care in Ontario, Canada.

Exposures — Calendar year and country (United States vs Canada).

Main Outcomes and Measures — Use of computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, and nuclear medicine imaging. Annual and relative imaging rates by imaging modality, country, and age (children [<18 years], adults [18-64 years], and older adults [≥65 years]).

Results — Overall, 135 774 532 imaging examinations were included; 5 439 874 (4%) in children, 89 635 312 (66%) in adults, and 40 699 346 (30%) in older adults. Among adults and older adults, imaging rates were significantly higher in 2016 vs 2000 for all imaging modalities other than nuclear medicine. For example, among older adults, CT imaging rates were 428 per 1000 person-years in 2016 vs 204 per 1000 in 2000 in US healthcare systems and 409 per 1000 vs 161 per 1000 in Ontario; for MRI, 139 per 1000 vs 62 per 1000 in the United States and 89 per 1000 vs 13 per 1000 in Ontario; and for ultrasound, 495 per 1000 vs 324 per 1000 in the United States and 580 per 1000 vs 332 per 1000 in Ontario. Annual growth in imaging rates among US adults and older adults slowed over time for CT (from an 11.6% annual percentage increase among adults and 9.5% among older adults in 2000-2006 to 3.7% among adults in 2013-2016 and 5.2% among older adults in 2014-2016) and for MRI (from 11.4% in 2000-2004 in adults and 11.3% in 2000-2005 in older adults to 1.3% in 2007-2016 in adults and 2.2% in 2005-2016 in older adults). Patterns in Ontario were similar. Among children, annual growth for CT stabilized or declined (United States: from 10.1% in 2000-2005 to 0.8% in 2013-2016; Ontario: from 3.3% in 2000-2006 to −5.3% in 2006-2016), but patterns for MRI were similar to adults. Changes in annual growth in ultrasound were smaller among adults and children in the United States and Ontario compared with CT and MRI. Nuclear medicine imaging declined in adults and children after 2006.

Conclusions and Relevance — From 2000 to 2016 in 7 US integrated and mixed-model healthcare systems and in Ontario, rates of CT and MRI use continued to increase among adults, but at a slower pace in more recent years. In children, imaging rates continued to increase except for CT, which stabilized or declined in more recent periods. Whether the observed imaging utilization was appropriate or was associated with improved patient outcomes is unknown.



Smith-Bindman R, Kwan ML, Marlow EC, Theis MK, Bolch W, Cheng SY, Bowles EJA, Duncan JR, Greenlee RT, Kushi LH, Pole JD, Rahm AK, Stout NK, Weinmann S, Miglioretti DL. JAMA. 2019; 322(9):843-56. Epub 2019 Sep 3.

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