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Vascular Ultrasound and Noninvasive Physiological Testing for Peripheral Arterial Disease: Are These Tests Being Overused?

PURPOSE: To examine recent trends in the use of duplex ultrasound and noninvasive physiologic tests (NPTs) for determining the presence of peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

METHODS: Medicare Part B databases for 2001-2013 were used. The two Current Procedural Terminology, version four codes for duplex ultrasound of lower-extremity arteries, and the three codes for NPTs of extremity arteries were selected. Procedure volumes of both types of examinations were determined, and utilization rates per 100,000 beneficiaries were calculated. Medicare specialty codes were used to determine what proportions were performed by the major specialty groups involved in these examinations: surgeons, cardiologists, radiologists, and primary care physicians (PCPs).

RESULTS: Between 2001 and 2010 (the peak year), the total utilization rates per 100,000 of duplex ultrasound and NPTs increased by 94% and 84%, respectively. During the ensuing three years, small declines occurred in both. In 2013, utilization rates of both types of tests were far higher than they had been in 2001 (88% higher for duplex ultrasound; 63% higher for NPTs). From 2001 to 2013, use of duplex ultrasound increased 235% among cardiologists, 90% among surgeons, 76% among radiologists, and 53% among PCPs. Utilization rates of NPTs among surgeons were already high in 2001 and increased an additional 23% by 2013. The NPT utilization rates increased 180% among PCPs, 179% among cardiologists, and 61% among radiologists.

CONCLUSIONS: During a period when little growth occurred in the incidence of PAD, sharp growth occurred in testing for the disease.

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