Sunday, April 19, 2009

Virtual colonoscopy at center of policy debate

With soothing walls of turquoise tile and a vase of orchids on the front desk, the Colon Health Center of Delaware has been selling an alternative to one of medicine's most unloved procedures -- the colonoscopy. Rather than insert several feet of tubing into patients' lower intestines, clinicians slide patients into a computed tomography, or CT, imaging machine that can quickly scan the abdomen for signs of cancer.

Today, however, this procedure is the subject of a heated debate in Washington pitting powerful sectors of the healthcare industry against a government desperate to contain healthcare spending. The fight over virtual colonoscopy has also become a prime example of how hard it can be to ensure that healthcare dollars are spent efficiently, a key goal of the Obama administration. The procedure is cheaper and more comfortable than the traditional method. Proponents say the noninvasive approach will save lives by increasing the number of people who get screened. Around 50,000 people die every year from colorectal cancer, many because they avoided a traditional colonoscopy.
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