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Concerns raised about use of double CT scans

Hundreds of hospitals are routinely performing a type of chest scan that experts say should be used rarely, subjecting patients to double doses of radiation and driving up health care costs.

In a double CT scan, patients get two imaging tests consecutively: one with dye injected into their veins and the other without.

The government is taking a closer look at scans because imaging tests are among the fastest-growing procedures in health care. Medicare doesn't restrict the use of double scans or penalize those who perform lots of them.

Nationwide, hospitals performed double scans on 5.4 percent of Medicare patients who received chest CTs in emergency rooms or hospital radiology units where they were referred by their doctors.

Those scans totaled 76,781 in 2008. The overall number was certainly higher, as patients with private insurance, Medicaid or no coverage also get double scans, but no one tracks the number.

Experts say almost all chest problems can be properly diagnosed with a single scan.

But some physicians who order the tests still value double scans for gathering the most information possible. Hospitals and radiologists are paid more for the double scans, so they have a disincentive to crack down on them.

-- Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent news service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy organization that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.