Public reporting of MRI of the lumbar spine for low back pain and changes in clinical documentation

Jonathan A. Flug*, Kimberly E. Lind

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: OP-8 is the Medicare imaging efficiency metric for MRI of the lumbar spine for low back pain in the outpatient hospital. We studied trends in exclusion criteria coding over time by site of service after implementation of OP-8 to evaluate provider's response to public reporting. 

Materials and Methods: We conducted a secondary data analysis using the Medicare Limited Data Set 5% sample for beneficiaries with MRI lumbar spine and lower back pain during 2009 to 2014. We evaluated the association between excluding condition prevalence and site by using generalized estimating equations regression. We produced model-based estimates of excluding condition prevalence by site and year. As a sensitivity analysis, we repeated the analysis while including additional conditions in the outcome measure. 

Results: We included 285,911 MRIs of the lumbar spine for low back pain. Generalized estimating equations regression found that outpatient hospitals had a higher proportion of MRIs with at least one excluding condition documented compared with outpatient clinics (P <.05), but increases in excluding condition prevalence were similar across all sites during 2009 to 2014. Our results were not sensitive to the inclusion of additional conditions. 

Conclusion: Documentation of excluding conditions and other clinically reasonable exclusions for OP-8 increased over time for outpatient hospitals and clinics. Increases in documentation of comorbidities may not translate to actual improvement in imaging appropriateness for low back pain. When accounting for all relevant conditions, the proportion of patients with low back pain considered uncomplicated and being measured by OP-8 would be small, reflecting a small proportion of patients with low back pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1545-1551
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American College of Radiology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • imaging quality metrics
  • lumbar spine
  • Medicare
  • MRI utilization
  • OP-8


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