Radiation exposure and cost influence physician medical image decision making: A randomized controlled trial

Ronald W. Gimbel*, Paul Fontelo, Mark B. Stephens, Cara H. Olsen, Christopher Bunt, Christy J.W. Ledford, Cynthia A. Loveland Cook, Fang Liu, Harry B. Burke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND:: It is estimated that 20%-40% of advanced medical imaging in the United States is unnecessary, resulting in patient overexposure to radiation and increasing the cost of care. Previous imaging utilization studies have focused on clinical appropriateness. An important contributor to excessive use of advanced imaging may be a physician "knowledge gap" regarding the safety and cost of the tests. OBJECTIVES:: To determine whether safety and cost information will change physician medical image decision making. RESEARCH DESIGN:: Double-blinded, randomized controlled trial. Following standardized case presentation, physicians made an initial imaging choice. This was followed by the presentation of guidelines, radiation exposure and health risk, and cost information. RESULTS:: Approximately half (57 of 112, 50.9%) of participants initially selected computed tomography (CT). When presented with guideline recommendations, participants did not modify their initial imaging choice (P=0.197). A significant reduction (56.3%, P<0.001) in CT ordering occurred after presentation of radiation exposure/health risk information; ordering changed to magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasound (US). A significant reduction (48.3%, P<0.001) in CT and magnetic resonance imaging ordering occurred after presentation of Medicare reimbursement information; ordering changed to US. The majority of physicians (31 of 40, 77.5%) selecting US never modified their ordering. No significant relationship between physician demographics and decision making was observed. CONCLUSIONS:: This study suggests that physician decision making can be influenced by safety and cost information and the order in which information is provided to physicians can affect their decisions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)628-632
Number of pages5
JournalMedical Care
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • clinical decision support
  • cost
  • decision making
  • medical imaging
  • patient safety
  • physicians
  • radiation exposure


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