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Discounted deals on medical imaging not the safest bet, says new study

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | November 04, 2020
CT Molecular Imaging MRI Ultrasound X-Ray
Discounted deals from companies like Groupon for medical imaging may lead patients to undergo unnecessary tests and incur risks to their health
Using a Groupon to find an affordable scan may not be the best idea, according to a new study.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that such coupons do not always include information about potential risks linked to medical imaging, and can lead to unnecessary testing, incidental findings, false positives, risk of radiation exposure and downstream interventions, among other issues.

“Groupon deals should also provide evidence to corroborate any medical claims made about their imaging studies,” Sheena Desai, BS, a dermatologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told HCB News. “They should encourage patients to consult with their health care provider prior to obtaining a medical scan to ensure that the scan is medically necessary and safe.”
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Desai and her colleagues conducted a cross-sectional analysis of Groupon offerings that were available in the U.S on February 6, 2020. They found 84 companies offering vouchers for 130 different types of imaging services in 27 states, especially in each state’s largest city. Only one mentioned the possible risks attached to medical imaging, while 38 companies made unsubstantiated claims. Fifty-seven said a consultation was needed to assess if a consumer could undergo imaging. None mentioned this requirement in their other advertisements.

All the companies together sold 28,380 vouchers by February 2020, with California holding the highest number of vouchers available (10). The most sought after imaging modality was CT, with 41.3% of coupons being used for such services, followed by fetal ultrasonography (36.9%).

The average customer rated their experience a 4.8 out of 5. Out of 2,044 reviews, 90 implied that someone tried to persuade them to agree to additional imaging during their visit. Of the 25 reviews that mentioned a motive for seeking imaging services, all were self-referred, a fact that troubles Desai due to the risks it poses.

“To ensure Groupon deals do not take advantage of patients, providers offering Groupon deals can avoid the practice of upselling scans to patients at their visits and making unsubstantiated medical claims about the quality or benefits of their scans,” she said, adding that “consumers should discuss medical scan purchases with their health care providers beforehand to ensure they are appropriately advised regarding the potential pitfalls and medical necessity of the scan.”

The average price of imaging services ranged from $60 for a body or biofeedback scan to $687 for MR imaging, compared to $126 and $2000, respectively, in average retail prices. Future studies will be needed to assess the appropriateness, safety, and follow-up of direct-to-consumer imaging services and to compare their health benefits to consumers’ financial savings.

The findings were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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