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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

We Never Claimed to Be Accountants: Survey of Interventional Radiologists and Vascular Surgeons Regarding the Cost and Reimbursement of Common Devices and Procedures

With US healthcare spending projected to exceed $5 trillion by 2022, there is new emphasis on the physician’s role in decreasing healthcare costs. This study quantified the abilities of Interventional Radiologists and Vascular Surgeons to estimate the prices of devices and reimbursement for procedures. All members of the Society of Interventional Radiology and the Society of Vascular Surgery were invited to participate in an online survey asking the physician to estimate the average retail price of 15 devices commonly used in both specialties as well as specialty-specific questions regarding average Medicare procedural reimbursement rates and procedure relative value units. The answers were given in a fill-in-the-blank format and an answer was scored as correct if it was within 25% of the actual dollar amount. Approximately 22 % of those surveyed responded, and the analysis showed that Vascular Surgeons (VS) and Interventional Radiologists (IR) were very similar in their knowledge of device cost, with about 20% of responses falling within the correct range. Across both specialties, more accurate cost estimations were correlated with years of experience, private practice work environment and area of practice with the plausible explanation that physicians with more cost exposure in their practice are likely to be more familiar with how their hospitals negotiate contracts for device-related and procedure-related costs.


Containing healthcare costs is a critically important issue facing the US healthcare system - one that will only become more important as policymakers modify reimbursements and bundle payments to incentivize the judicious use of medical equipment. While data collection via voluntary survey is inherently limited by bias, the 22% response rate in this study is a very good yield. While it is not surprising that physicians with more experience and cost exposure are better at estimating costs, it is surprising and concerning that the overall accuracy rate was only 20% across both IR and VS. The study points out that nearly all of the surveyed physicians would choose to utilize less expensive tools if they knew the cost, but only a quarter of the respondents felt they had adequate access to hospital pricing. If the goal is to practice cost-conscious spending, then understanding the costs of basic tools is a logical first step. The study nicely discusses possible explanations for this disconnect and postulates that a lack of transparency at the hospital purchasing level may play a significant role in some healthcare systems. Additionally, device cost and procedure reimbursement is not an emphasized milestone in most training programs. Physician education and purchasing transparency is a prime area for further study and evaluation as a means to control spiraling healthcare costs.

Click here for abstract

Wang A, Dybul SL, Patel OJ, Tutton SM, Lee CJ, White SB. A cross-sectional survey of interventional radiologists and vascular surgeons regarding the cost and reimbursement of common devices and procedures. J Vasc Interv Radiol 2016; 27: 210-218.

Post Author:
John T. Cardella, MD
VIR Fellow, University of Virginia

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