More Americans Using High-Tech Medicine, CDC Finds

Doctors divide over whether better technology makes for better medicine.

ByABC News
February 17, 2010, 1:42 PM

Feb. 17, 2010— -- More drugs, more tests, more surgery.

A report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the use of high-tech medical tests and surgeries has escalated rapidly over the past decade in the United States. But whether the expanding presence of medical technology is a good thing is still a matter of debate.

The rates of Americans getting MRIs and CT scans tripled between 1996 and 2006, according to the report released today from the National Center for Health Statistics. CT scans can help doctors detect everything from kidney stones to cancer, but they pack a mega dose of radiation -- as much as 500 times that of a conventional X-ray, which some health experts say raises the risk for cancer.

More Americans are also going under the knife. According to the report, the rate of knee replacement procedures increased 70 percent over the decade studied; kidney and liver transplants increased by 31 percent and 43 percent, respectively.

What's more, Americans are also on more drugs now than in years past: 47 percent of the population in 2006 was taking at least one prescription drug, compared to 38 percent in 1994. About one in five Americans in 2006 were taking three or more prescriptions -- nearly double that in 1994.

Of course, increased use of new medical technology and a spike in the use of prescription drugs has occurred alongside a continual increase in life expectancy and decrease in death rates for cancer, heart disease, and stroke. The connection between these two trends remains unclear, however, experts say.