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Australian GPs push back scans

If you suffer a bad back in Australia you may well be sent for a scan.

That's because Australian GPs are increasingly turning to diagnostic imaging tests (DITs), according to latest research from the University of Sydney.

The number of tests ordered have jumped by 45%, says the study of 9,802 family doctors in the decade up until 2012.

You are also more likely to get a DIT if you're suffering issues affecting muscles and bones, the report finds.

Pros and cons of DITs So what does this mean for people living in Australia?

Such technology could get to the bottom of your back problem quicker.

Computed tomography (or CT), for example, can produce incredibly intricate images anywhere in mere seconds; ideal, especially if you have to rush back to the office.

However, some CT tests can deliver radiation doses way over that from standard X-rays, raising concerns by some scientists of that they could increase the risk of cancer. The authors of the study believe that GPs could be premature in requesting DITs when first assessing back complaints.

Red Flags Lead author Helena Britt says that specialist recommendations urge caution when ordering DITs for back pain, except when there are "red flags" circumstances that spark investigation.

Dr Britt says red flags include neurological problems, inflammation, major trauma, and unaccountable fever or weight loss.

The study finds that the four most common "red flags" for CITs are:

  • Patient characteristics: women, people aged at least 45, plus new patients
  • Amount of hardships overseen at initial doctor visits: every extra problem managed raises the possibility of CIT tests by 41%
  • Kind of medical difficulty managed: this especially applies to musculoskeletal ailments, female genital conditions, family planning and pregnancy issues
  • GP characteristics: particularly women, doctors aged 35-44 years working solo, plus GPs in surgeries sharing premises with imaging services

Copyright Press Association 2014