Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scans – The More The Better?

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surgery and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans

Research has found that countries with more access to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scans have higher number of unnecessary back surgery. MRI may reveal too many abnormalities that may mislead the doctor in coming up with the correct diagnosis of the problem. As such, the doctor may end up carrying out unnecessary surgery that may not benefit the patient.

The issue now seems to be spreading to the sporting arena. A sports medicine orthopedist, Dr. James Andrews, wanted to test his suspicion; that MRI scans given to almost every injured athlete or casual exerciser, might be a bit misleading. He MRI-ed 31 pitchers. They were perfectly healthy, and had no problems with pain, discomfort, or performance in their pitching arm. As suspected, the MRI picked up problems in the rotator cuff and shoulder cartilage of nearly 90 percent of these asymptomatic pitchers.  For more about this story, read “Sports Medicine Said to Overuse M.R.I.’s”

This is a disturbing trend in medicine. We develop and build ever increasingly more accurate or more precise machines. However, our diagnostic ability to interpret the results is not always developing at the same pace. This phenomenon is known as “false precision” in science and engineering fields, where data is presented in a manner that implies better precision than is actually the case. Since precision is a limit to accuracy, this often leads to overconfidence in the accuracy as well.