Cost of scans for headache patients reaches $1 billion

Cost of scans for headache patients reaches $1 billion

Headaches may be the most common human malady, accounting for one-quarter of all doctor visits.

Scans are becoming more common for headache sufferers, even if they do not necessarily need the scans, according to a new study. In the study, researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School found that scans are becoming more frequent among those with headaches, despite guidelines that warn against using imaging for routine headaches and migraines.

The analysis has concluded that almost $1 billion is spent every year for headache sufferers in the U.S. alone. Researchers found that many of these patients are probably getting unnecessary brain scans. Health experts warn that this is a waste of time, money, and resources, as the scans are not likely to find a serious problem.

The study notes that out of all the patients who present to a doctor with a persistent or severe headache or migraine, 12 percent are sent for a scan.

Dr. Brian Callaghan, lead study author, said, “There’s solid research showing that the number of times you find serious issues on these scans in headache patients is about the same as that for a randomly chosen group of non-headache patients.” He continued, “And a lot of the things we find on such scans aren’t necessarily something we will do something about.”

The study, which was recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that between 2007 and 2010, around one in every eight doctor visits for uncomplicated or migraine headaches resulted in the patient planning on going for an MRI or CT scan.

Although there are national guidelines in place that warn of excess use, the number of imaging procedures continues to rise, almost tripling from 5.1 percent to 14.7 percent of visits.

Many doctors suspect that patient demand may be the root cause of the increasing costs, as opposed to actual need.

Callaghan notes that, “The number one reason physicians give for ordering the scans is patient reassurance.” He continues, “A billion dollars is a lot for patient reassurance.”

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