Dramatically increased musculoskeletal ultrasound utilization from 2000 to 2009, especially by podiatrists in private offices

J Am Coll Radiol. 2012 Feb;9(2):141-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jacr.2011.09.008.


Purpose: Over the past two decades, musculoskeletal (MSK) ultrasound has emerged as an effective means of diagnosing MSK pathologies. However, some insurance providers have expressed concern about increased MSK ultrasound utilization, possibly facilitated by the low cost and ready availability of ultrasound technology. The purpose of this study was to document trends in MSK ultrasound utilization from 2000 to 2009 within the Medicare population.

Methods: Source data were obtained from the CMS Physician/Supplier Procedure Summary Master Files from 2000 to 2009, and records were extracted for procedures for extremity nonvascular ultrasound. We analyzed annual volume by provider type using specialties, practice settings, and geographic regions where the studies were performed.

Results: In 2000, Medicare reimbursed 56,254 MSK ultrasound studies, which increased to 233,964 in 2009 (+316%). Radiologists performed the largest number of MSK ultrasound studies in 2009, 91,022, an increase from 40,877 in 2000. Podiatrists utilized the next highest number of studies in 2009, 76,332, an increase from 3,920 in 2000. Overall, private office MSK ultrasound procedures increased from 19,372 in 2000 to 158,351 in 2009 (+717%). In 2009, podiatrists performed the largest number of private office procedures (75,544) and accounted for 51.5% of the total private office growth from 2000 to 2009. Radiologist private office procedures totaled 19,894 in 2009, accounting for 9.2% of the total private office MSK ultrasound growth.

Conclusions: The MSK ultrasound volume increase among nonradiologists, especially podiatrists, was far higher than that among radiologists from 2000 and 2009, with the highest growth in private offices. These findings raise concern for self-referral.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Medicare Part B / statistics & numerical data*
  • Medicare Part B / trends
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Physician Self-Referral / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physician Self-Referral / trends
  • Podiatry / statistics & numerical data*
  • Podiatry / trends
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends
  • Ultrasonography / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ultrasonography / trends
  • United States / epidemiology