Overuse of Magnetic Resonance Imaging in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Moderate to Severe Osteoarthritis

Seth L. Sherman, Trevor R. Gulbrandsen, Hal A. Lewis, Martin H. Gregory, Nicholas M. Capito, Aaron D. Gray, B. Sonny Bal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: MRI in the evaluation of end-stage knee joint osteoarthritis (OA) is usually unnecessary when radiographic and clinical evidence of gonarthrosis is clear. The purpose of this study was to assess the prevalence of MRI scans ordered in patients with radiographically obvious gonarthrosis and to examine the characteristics of health care providers who ordered these imaging studies. Methods: We retrospectively identified 164 patients diagnosed with moderate to severe OA who were referred for total knee replacement (TKA) over a one-year period. The percentage of patients who had an MRI scan with or without X-ray, within the preceding 3 months prior to referral, were calculated. Subgroups were analyzed to identify characteristics that may influence the decision to order an MRI, including K-L grade, provider type, level of training, and practice location. Results: Of 145 patients, 19 (13.1%) presented with an MRI scan. Between the number of MRI scans ordered, there was a significant difference when comparing physicians versus non-physicians, with physicians ordering less MRI scans (p=0.018). There was a significant difference when comparing non-academic versus academic, with academic providers ordering less MRI scans (p=0.044). There was no significant difference with fellowship training or provider proximity to our academic institution. Conclusions: In this study, 13.1% of patients with radiographically obvious knee OA obtained an MRI prior to referral for TKA. Non-physicians and non-academic physicians were more likely to order MRI scans. Improved education for referring providers may be necessary to decrease overuse of MRI in the diagnosis of moderate to severe arthritis.Level II.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-37
Number of pages5
JournalThe Iowa orthopaedic journal
StatePublished - 2018


  • gonarthrosis
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • osteoarthritis
  • testing and procedures


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