Overuse of screening colonoscopy in the Medicare population

Arch Intern Med. 2011 Aug 8;171(15):1335-43. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.212. Epub 2011 May 9.


Background: All relevant authorities recommend an interval of 10 years between normal screening colonoscopies. We assessed the timing of repeated colonoscopies after a negative screening colonoscopy finding in a population-based sample of Medicare patients.

Methods: A 5% national sample of Medicare enrollees from 2000 through 2008 was used to identify average-risk patients undergoing screening colonoscopy between 2001 and 2003. Colonoscopy was classified as a negative screening examination finding if no indication other than screening were in the claims and if no biopsy, fulguration, or polypectomy was performed. Time to repeated colonoscopy was calculated.

Results: Among 24,071 Medicare patients who had a negative screening colonoscopy finding in 2001 through 2003, 46.2% underwent a repeated examination in fewer than 7 years. In 42.5% of these patients (23.5% of the overall sample), there was no clear indication for the early repeated examination. In patients aged 75 to 79 years or 80 years or older at the time of the initial negative screening colonoscopy result, 45.6% and 32.9%, respectively, received a repeated examination within 7 years. In multivariable analyses, male sex, more comorbidities, and colonoscopy by a high-volume colonoscopist or in an office setting were associated with higher rates of early repeated colonoscopy without clear indication, while those 80 years or older had a reduced risk. There were also marked geographic variations, from less than 5% in some health referral regions to greater than 50% in others.

Conclusions: A large proportion of Medicare patients who undergo screening colonoscopy do so more frequently than recommended. Current Medicare regulations intending to limit reimbursement for screening colonoscopy to every 10 years would not appear to be effective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Colonoscopy / economics
  • Colonoscopy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Fee-for-Service Plans / economics
  • Fee-for-Service Plans / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Services Misuse* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / economics
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data*
  • Medicare / economics
  • Medicare / statistics & numerical data
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States