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Back Pain Imaging Is Subject of Healthcare Value Project
By Jim Knaub

The publisher of Consumer Reports has joined forces with the American College of Physicians (ACP) to help consumers get better value for their healthcare dollar. The High Value Care project was unveiled at the ACP’s Internal Medicine 2012 meeting in New Orleans last month.

The project creates educational resources for patients and doctors, describing proven, cost-effective treatments for common conditions. The ACP vets the medical effectiveness, and the Consumers Union evaluates the value for the patient’s dollar in its familiar, no-nonsense style.

One of the first issues addressed by the project is well known to imaging facilities: imaging for lower back pain. “Imaging tests for lower-back back pain: Why you probably don’t need them” was one of two new plain-language patient education resources released in April to launch the series. (The other was about metformin as the first-line drug for type 2 diabetes.)

“[People] want to know what products work and what products don’t,” explains John Santa, MD, MPH, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. “They know that in every industry that occurs, including medicine.”

So why do the Consumers Union and the ACP think you probably don’t need imaging for lower back pain? Here are the reasons taken directly from the report:

• They don’t help you get better faster.

• They can pose other health risks.

• They’re often a waste of money.

Each of these reasons was explained in the two-page report. The rest of the document focuses on when imaging tests make sense and offers advice to patients on self-treatment.

The project aims to create a fuller series of reports on numerous common medical conditions. The High Value Care reports will be available free of charge through the Consumer Reports and ACP websites.

— Jim Knaub is editor of Radiology Today.