KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Federal Officials Focus On Radiation Practices At Florida Clinic; Medical Scan Makers Announce New Efforts To Prevent Mistakes

Medicare regulations require that when patients receive some types of highly specialized cancer treatments, their radiation oncologist must be on site. But The New York Times reports that federal officials are investigating a Florida cancer clinic that billed Medicare for such treatments while the doctors were absent, sometimes on overseas trips. "A lawsuit by federal officials is focusing only on what the officials say are fraudulent billings from 2003 through at least 2008. But the case points to some of the rising concerns about safety procedures and oversight involving today's increasingly complex computer-controlled radiotherapy and diagnostic equipment." The case also raises issues about  "financial incentives and the overuse of high-tech, and highly reimbursed, treatments." The government alleges that the physicians put patients at risk when they did not properly oversee  technicians, as the government alleges, the doctors put patients at risk - "and then tried to cover it up. By treating patients at the group's own cancer center, doctors stood to benefit from tests and radiation therapy in which they had a financial interest." Radiation safety will be the subject of a Congressional hearing Friday (Bogdanich and Ruiz, 2/25).

The Associated Press/Los Angeles Times: "A medical imaging trade group said Thursday that manufacturers of CT scanners would begin installing safety controls to prevent patients from receiving excessive radiation. The dosing checks, which will begin rolling out before the end of the year, will alert operators whenever the machine's settings exceed recommended levels. Hospitals and clinics also will be able to set maximum dosing levels for their machines." The group made the announcement a day before a congressional hearing on scanners and their safety record. "Last year three California hospitals reported hundreds of acute radiation overdoses from CT scanners, with many patients reporting lost hair and skin redness. The average American's total radiation exposure has nearly doubled in the last three decades, largely because of next-generation imaging tests, the FDA said" (2/26).

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