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Graph of the Day: Minnesotans and Pains in the Back

In an impressive example of health policy journalism, the St. Paul based Pioneer Press analyzed data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and determined that Minnesotans have a higher than average rate of using MRIs for lower pain.  They broke the data down by county and is illustrated below.

As Christopher Snowbeck reports, “Medicare pays about $500 per test and spent about $420 million on low back MRIs nationally in 2009.”  MRIs are very costly tests that don’t often provide benefit for in comparison to recommended treatment of exercise, physical therapy, and injections for this type of pain.  The treatment of an MRI is not recommended.

As Atul Gawande’s now infamous McAllen, Texas article a year ago proved anecdotally, provider services vary based on the provider culture of the area and how patients respond.  Provider and patient induced demand is a controversial explanation for the growing technology dependent cost of health care in this country.  Providers often will not admit to driving demand and patients can only be blamed to a limited extent.

One of the greatest aspects of health care reform is that more data will begin to be collected on procedures like this.  If providers, patients, health policy experts, and most importantly insurers are able to see trends and problem areas costs can be contained and unnecessary care could be avoided.  Information is key and health reform has opened the door for greater information in the health care industry.

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