GAO Study Raises Questions on Doctors’ Financial Interests

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Doctors who have financial interests in radiation therapy centers are much more likely to prescribe radiation treatments for prostate cancer, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) study.

This is the latest in a series of GAO studies that show doctors prescribe certain treatments more frequently when they have financial interests in medical facilities that offer those treatments.

Radiation therapy is a common treatment for prostate cancer although the study says alternative remedies may be equally effective and less expensive for patients and Medicare.

Federal law generally prohibits doctors from having financial interests in the treatments they prescribe for Medicare beneficiaries. But there are exemptions, including for radiation therapy. GAO investigators concluded that many patients who received radiation therapy did not know their doctors had such financial interests in the medical centers providing the treatment.

The current fee-for-service payment system for Medicare simply reimburses doctors for the amount of services they provide. This makes it easier for doctors who have a financial stake in certain medical technologies to prescribe costly and potentially unnecessary treatments.

External links:
Higher Use of Prostate Cancer Treatment By Providers Who Self-Refer Warrants Scrutiny (GAO)
Doctors Who Profit From Radiation Prescribe it More Often, Study Finds (New York Times)

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