Objectives: Self-referred imaging has grown rapidly, raising concerns about increased costs and compromised quality of care. A quality improvement program using imaging interpretation criteria was designed by a national payer to ensure that noninvasive diagnostic images are interpreted by appropriately trained physicians. The objective of this program evaluation was to compare self-referral rates before and after institution of the imaging interpretation criteria program.
Methods: The imaging interpretation criteria program allocated privileges to bill for advanced imaging interpretation according to physician specialty. Nonradiologist physicians could obtain exemptions by appeal. Some physicians were not restricted in their billing because of successful appeals of the restrictions or the timing of their contract renewals. Self-referral rates were compared between the period 12 months before and 25 months after the program was initiated using t tests. The preprogram and postprogram self-referral rate for computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging in aggregate was calculated both for the physicians that came into contact with the program and nationally, and then was stratified based on physician appeal status and reimbursement restrictions.
Results: The program was associated with significantly less frequent self-referrals by physicians whose appeals were denied (17.4%-8.2%; P = 0.0011) and by physicians notified of the program but not subject to it (24.8%-18.5%; P = 0.026). Self-referrals in the program states declined from 19.9% to 13.7% (P < 0.01).
Conclusions: A significant reduction in image interpretations billed by physicians working outside of the scope of their training occurred after the implementation of the imaging interpretation criteria program.
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