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The Burden Of High Cost Imaging On The Public

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to their physician or miss work. It’s one of the highest contributors to disability, not only in America, but worldwide. Most people have back pain at least once in their life. 1 Now imagine that you are one of these people and you are seeking help for your discomfort. Would you choose an option that is cost effective, non-invasive, and proven by research to help reduce your symptoms? Or would you opt for something that could end up costing thousands of dollars, lead to surgery, injections and increased emergency room visits?

The answer seems obvious. Unfortunately, in our healthcare system, people are going down the path of the second option. This option starts with advanced imaging and that image is most often magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Here are some facts that are related to the two options. 2 The 1st option looks at the path of people who received physical therapist services first. The 2nd option analyzes the path of people who received advanced imaging first.

Option 1 – Physical Therapy

  • Initial Referral: 3 physical therapist visits totaling $504

  • Subsequent costs over the next year: $1,871

  • Active approach to give patient self-management capabilities

  • Reduced likelihood of receiving opioid prescription

Option 2 – Imaging

  • Initial Imaging: $1,306 on average for MRI3

  • Subsequent costs over the next year: $6,664

  • Increase risk for surgery, injections and ER visits compared to people who received PT first

  • Negative consequences of being labeled according to imaging findings which can lead to additional care-seeking and unnecessary procedures.

Physical Therapists aim to optimize people’s lives through care that is patient centered. They take into account the entire person and all the factors involved. The evidence is clear that choosing PT first will take you down a path that is safe, affordable and proven to be successful. References 1. [May Clinic][1]. Updated August 4, 2018. Accessed on April 21, 2019. 2. [APTA][2]. Updated on March 18, 2015. Accessed on April 21, 2019. 3. Fritz, JM, Brennan GP, Hunter SJ. Physical therapy or advanced imaging as first management strategy following a new consultation for low back pain in primary care: Associations with future healthcare utilization and charges. Health Serv Res. 2015 Dec; 50(6): 1927–1940. Published online 2015 Mar 16. doi: 10.1111/1475-6773.12301


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