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MRI SCANS – from the NY Times March 6, 2009

Since many PIP disputes center around MRI scans, it seems fit to discuss a New York Times article that involves the efficacy of MRI Scans. The piece was published on March 1, 2009 and is entitled: “Good or Useless, Medical Scans Cost the Same”

My question: Will this allow “discovery” or “additional verification requests” in relation to certain MRI’s. For example, if a knee or shoulder MRI is a pre-requisite for surgery, will an insurance carrier seek the make, model and quality of the MRI machine as well as the actual films and deny the MRI (as well as the surgery) based upon the poor quality of the MRI machine and the films that result from the same? Read this article and ponder the above….

When Gail Kislevitz had an M.R.I. scan of her knee, it came back blurry, “uninterpretable,” her orthopedist told her.

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Images From Dr. Freddie Fu/University of Pittsburgh

A poor-quality scan of a ligament, left, and one of high quality. Many scans are done by machines that are a decade old.

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Her insurer refused to pay for another scan, but the doctor said he was sure she had torn cartilage that stabilizes the knee and suggested an operation to fix it. After the surgery, Ms. Kislevitz, 57, of Ridgewood, N.J., received a surprise: the cartilage had not been torn after all.

She had a long rehabilitation. And her insurer paid for the operation. But her knee is no better.

More than 95 million high-tech scans are done each year, and medical imaging, including CT, M.R.I. and PET scans, has ballooned into a $100-billion-a-year industry in the United States, with Medicare paying for $14 billion of that. But recent studies show that as many as 20 percent to 50 percent of the procedures should never have been done because their results did not help diagnose ailments or treat patients.

“The system is just totally, totally broken,” said Dr. Vijay Rao, the chairwoman of the radiology department at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, in Philadelphia.

Radiologists say a decent M.R.I. scan should have clearly shown whether the cartilage in Ms. Kislevitz, a meniscus, was torn. But bad scans, medical experts say, are part of a growing problem with medical imaging.

Many factors contribute. Insurers pay the same for a scan done on a 10-year-old machine as one on the latest model, though the differences in the images can be significant.

Insurers do not distinguish between scans that are done poorly or done well or read by less- or more-qualified doctors. Aside from mammography, whose standards were established by a law that went into effect more than a decade ago, the field is largely unregulated. And increasingly, doctors refer patients to scanning centers they own and profit from.

Ten years ago, the age of a scanner might not have mattered so much. Now, said Dr. Gary Glazer, the chairman of radiology at Stanford, technology has advanced so much that the older scanner “is not the same machine.”

“I can tell you from my experience that between those extremes the gap is huge,” Dr. Glazer said.

Yet, he added, many scanning machines used today are a decade old.

Imaging centers can, if they choose, become accredited by the American College of Radiology. That requires, among other things, scanning a phantom, a device that simulates a body part. Technologists must also be certified, and there are standards for supervising physicians. And the scanners must be regularly assessed to ensure they are properly functioning.

But many centers are not accredited, although the percentage is not known because there is no national registry of imaging centers.

Accrediting will be partly addressed by a little noticed aspect of a wide-ranging Medicare law passed last year. After it goes into effect in 2012, Medicare will pay only for scans done at accredited centers. But imaging experts say the law fixes only part of the problem. High-tech scanning is complicated, and there is no consensus on objective measures to ensure quality. Even with the new law, there is still little assurance that scans will be appropriately ordered and interpreted or that a scanner will be up to date.

Radiologists are struck by the wide variation in the quality of scans, and they say there is little patients can do other than to ask why the scan is necessary and, if it is, to ask about accreditation, the credentials of the person reading the scan and the age of the scanner.

“The studies I see coming from the outside vary from marginal quality to very good quality,” said Dr. Chris Beaulieu, a Stanford radiology professor. “Some of it is related to equipment, and some is related to people with very good equipment who don’t know how to use it right. And on the interpretation side, there is also a very wide range of quality or accuracy, in my opinion.”

Interpretation can be crucial, Dr. Beaulieu added. “A good radiologist can sometimes accurately read scans off of a lower-quality scanner,” he said. “I see that all the time. A good radiologist and a lower-quality scan could be better than a bad radiologist and a good scan.”

But logical as it might seem to pay more for a better scan, there are problems. Health insurers have no way of knowing whether scans are good, said Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group. Doctors, not insurers, receive the images and reports, and all insurers can do is notice if there are frequent requests to redo scans from a particular center.

“We see a lot of poor-quality scans,” said Dr. Freddie Fu, the chairman of the orthopedic surgery department at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “I joke with the patients: The insurance pays the same amount of money for the scan. You get a hamburger somewhere else and a prime rib here for the same price.”

Another concern is the growing number of doctors who refer patients for imaging done by scanners they own and profit from. Studies have found that up to 3.2 times as many scans are ordered in such cases

In
a
recent report, the Government Accountability Office said nearly two-thirds of the money Medicare paid for imaging was for scans in doctors’ offices. And, the report added, doctors were receiving an ever larger part of their income from providing scanning services. Not only were patients more likely to have scans if a doctor did this, but the quality of some of the scans was questioned.

“No comprehensive national standards exist for services delivered in physician offices other than a requirement that imaging services are to be provided under at least general physician supervision,” the G.A.O. wrote.

Private health insurers were concerned, too. “These are alarming patterns that have also been observed in the private sector,” America’s Health Insurance Plans wrote in a response to the G.A.O.

It is clear why self-referral can be tempting, said Dr. Bruce Hillman, a radiology professor at the University of Virginia.

“It’s all profits,” Dr. Hillman said, adding that a group of doctors can make an extra $500,000 to $1 million a year simply by acquiring a scanner.

For now, radiologists said, patients and insurers are often in a bind.

“If you are going to buy a car,” said Dr. Beaulieu, the Stanford professor, “and you have a certain amount of money to spend, you know what you are getting. You know what you will get if you buy a Yugo or if you buy a BMW.”

But with imaging, Dr. Beaulieu said, “you don’t know: you might get a Yugo and you might get a BMW.”

How to defeat a Lack of medical necessity motion based upon a peer review March 4, 2009

I encounter on many levels summary judgment motions predicated upon the defense that a service lacks medical necessity in accordance with a peer review which finds that a given service is medically unreasonable. Invariably, the motion only annexed the peer review.

The opponent to the motion now has to scramble to find the documents the peer reviewer examined, and then the opponent needs to retain an expert to review these records in order to conclude that the services were medically necessary.

I think we missed a step here. Why was the movant able to get away with attaching a FILE based review without annexing the file? Are we to throw caution to the wind and blindly trust the peer doctor’s interpretation of the plaintiff’s records? Indeed, the way plaintiffs win trials is through poking holes in the peer doctor’s medical rationale viz a vi the plaintiff’s medical records. Conversely, a defendant faced with a treating doctor will do the same thing to beat him or her.

Perhaps the better question is why, mister plaintiff did you not object to the defendant’s putting the cart before the horse through his making a summary judgment motion without any documentaty evidence to support it?

Maybe the question that really needs to be answered is why we allow ourselves to accept shoddy practices and mediocrity under the guise of “volume”?

The Appellate Division, in 2006 believed that what has now been the norm in no-fault medical necessity motion practice was unsatisfactory in an analagous scenario and found that the movant who pulled the above stunt was unable to prima facie demonstrate his defense to the action.

In Cariddi v. Hassan 45 AD3d 516 (2d Dept. 2006), the Appellate Division held the following:

While Dr. Katz provided objective medical evidence in support of his diagnoses with respect to the plaintiff’s complaints regarding **427 her ankle and lumbosacral spine, his only basis for concluding that the plaintiff’s complaints regarding her hip were “unrelated” to the subject accident was that “doctors’ notes reviewed do not indicate any problem to the left hip following this incident of 09/17/04 [and a]n MRI of the left hip and pelvis was not performed until 01/03/06 which is more than one year after the accident.” However, Dr. Katz did not attach any of the prior medical records to his report, and the defendants otherwise failed to submit any such records in support of their motion, as they were certainly entitled to do (see Kearse v. New York City Tr. Auth., 16 A.D.3d 45, 47 n. 1, 789 N.Y.S.2d 281; Pagano v. Kingsbury, 182 A.D.2d 268, 271, 587 N.Y.S.2d 692). Therefore, Dr. Katz’s report, standing alone, failed to establish, prima facie, that the plaintiff’s alleged hip injury was unrelated to the subject accident

Of course, one caveat needs to be stressed. The failure to object to a moving party’s reliance on materials not before the court is waived if not properly objected to. Unobjected to hearsay is competent evidence. Use it or lose it. Oh, and this does not apply to IME based motions.

Validity of EUO, Appellate Term, 2d Dept: Take two February 26, 2009

The Appellate Term, Second Department seems to be all over the place with the “EUO” cases. The analysis is really needlessly strained and hard to follow. The latest case demonstrates this… Two parts of the opinion are set forth herein.

Great Wall Acupuncture, P.C. v New York Cent. Mut. Fire Ins. Co.

2009 NYSlipOp 50294(U)(App. Term 2d Dept. 2009)

Plaintiff asserts that the EUO scheduling letters were ineffective since they were not sent to plaintiff but rather to an attorney. However, since defendant’s counsel received a letter from said attorney a short time before the initial EUO scheduling letter was mailed advising counsel that the attorney represented plaintiff with respect to EUO requests which were already pending, such a contention lacks merit

A review of the record indicates that defendant established that the insurance policy in effect when the EUOs were sought contained an endorsement authorizing verification by EUO. Inasmuch as the accident in which plaintiff’s assignor was allegedly injured occurred after the April 5, 2003 effective date of the emergency first amendment to revised Department of Insurance Regulation 68, contrary to plaintiff’s contention, defendant was not required to schedule the EUO within 30 days of receiving plaintiff’s claims but only within a reasonable time thereafter. Since the date selected for the EUO was reasonable and plaintiff did not appear for the scheduled EUO, defendant’s motion for summary judgment should have been granted since the action was premature

First, while I agree that in principle an EUO scheduling letter, or any other correspondence, should only be sent to an attorney representing the Party to be deposed, when one is on notice of the same, the regulations do not agree with that proposition of law. The regulations require that the notices be mailed to the injured person and his or her authorized representatives. I am not sure solely sending it to the attorney complies with the regs. But that part of the opinion does not necesarily trouble me.

It is the second part. Why does the App. Term, 2nd Dept keep saying that the failure to attend EUO’s makes the action premature? The failure to attend an EUO is a policy violation – albeit shceduled as additional verification requests – and the claim must be denied. The denial must be within the latter of 30 days of the last EUO appointment or date of receipt of the bill. This is the law. I also do not understand why the App. Term is saying that upon one failure to attend an EUO, the claim is still premature? We shall see how the Court fixes this, or if the App. Div is going to have straighten this out, similar to Fogel and AB Liberty…

“Kids, dont try this at home” February 26, 2009

I got that line from another blogger. That comment refers to a case that is anything but remarkable.

Although there was a long and very thoughtful dissent on what the probably should be, the majority made two salient points.

Continental Med., P.C. v Mercury Cas. Co.
2009 NYSlipOp 50234(U)(App. Term 2d Dept. 2009)

“Although chiropractors may not affirm pursuant to CPLR 2106 this defect was waived since plaintiff failed to object in the court below. As a result, the IME report proffered by defendant established defendant’s prima facie entitlement to summary judgment on the ground that the services rendered to plaintiff’s assignor were not medically necessary”

“In opposition, plaintiff proffered an unsworn medical report which was “dictated but not read.” Thus, it was of no probative value. Inasmuch as plaintiff failed to rebut defendant’s prima facie case, defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint should have been granted”

I think, and this is just me, but New York should follow the Federal and New Jersey model where a party can submit a “certification”, which would have the same force and effect as an affidavit. In the criminal realm, this is done all the time. But the law is what it is…

"Kids, dont try this at home" February 26, 2009

I got that line from another blogger. That comment refers to a case that is anything but remarkable.

Although there was a long and very thoughtful dissent on what the probably should be, the majority made two salient points.

Continental Med., P.C. v Mercury Cas. Co.
2009 NYSlipOp 50234(U)(App. Term 2d Dept. 2009)

“Although chiropractors may not affirm pursuant to CPLR 2106 this defect was waived since plaintiff failed to object in the court below. As a result, the IME report proffered by defendant established defendant’s prima facie entitlement to summary judgment on the ground that the services rendered to plaintiff’s assignor were not medically necessary”

“In opposition, plaintiff proffered an unsworn medical report which was “dictated but not read.” Thus, it was of no probative value. Inasmuch as plaintiff failed to rebut defendant’s prima facie case, defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint should have been granted”

I think, and this is just me, but New York should follow the Federal and New Jersey model where a party can submit a “certification”, which would have the same force and effect as an affidavit. In the criminal realm, this is done all the time. But the law is what it is…