All specialties see more vascular US volume

CHICAGO - Unlike other imaging areas where American radiologists appear to be losing ground to other specialists, recent data on procedural volumes show that vascular ultrasound has been a "win" for radiology.

That's according to radiologist Dr. David Levin, of the Center for Research on Utilization of Imaging Services at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, who presented his center's data on vascular ultrasound volumes on Monday afternoon at the RSNA meeting.

Levin described the vascular ultrasound data as "a rather pleasant surprise," drawing an implicit comparison to other studies his group has done that show radiologists with a diminishing share of imaging volume.

The researchers analyzed vascular US performance by looking at Medicare's physician fee-for-service database from 1998 to 2003. Medicare patients receive about one-third of all imaging studies performed in the U.S., Levin noted.

Claims data for 15 vascular ultrasound CPT codes in the 93000 series were reviewed. The exams included ones performed on the neck and cranial arteries, extremity arteries and veins, and other areas.

Overall, the volume of vascular ultrasound increased by 35% over the study period, from 116 studies per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries to 157 per 1,000.

Cardiologists increased their volume by 66% over the five-year period, nearly twice the pace of radiologists and vascular surgeons. But cardiologists' volume growth rate didn't overcome the overall share advantage held by radiologists.

As of 2003, radiologists performed 42% of all vascular US procedures, surgeons 26%, and cardiologists 13%, with other physicians rounding out the rest.

Radiologists also added 900,000 new vascular US procedures over the five-year period. Overall, the trend lines for the specialties performing vascular US were increasing in parallel, Levin noted.

"Nobody is acquiring a lot of the business of other specialties," he concluded.

By Tracie L. Thompson staff writer
November 29, 2005

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