Local News

Doctors, Hospitals In N.C. Differ Over Colonoscopy Procedures

Posted June 24, 2005 11:41 a.m. EDT

— Colonoscopies are relatively a safe and painless way to prevent colon cancer. Yet only 20 percent of North Carolinians who should get them do. There is a debate over what can be done to change the situation.

"We don't believe physicians should tolerate a situation where only one out of five patients that need colonoscopy procedures in North Carolina can get them," said Steve Keene, of the North Carolina Medical Society.

Doctors believe the answer is simple -- allow them to perform the life-saving measure in their office instead of sending patients to a hospital to get it done. They argue it would make colonoscopies more convenient and affordable, and would encourage more people to have them.

However, hospitals argue doctors are already allowed to offer the service if they choose.

"Doctors can do the procedures every day in their office. There is nothing in the law that precludes them from doing colonoscopies in their offices," said Don Dalton, of the North Carolina Hospital Association.

Doctors disagree. Because of state regulations, most insurance companies will only pay a doctor for the service, not for the facility or equipment.

"A physician would have to be willing to build a facility and give it away one procedure at a time to the Medicare and Medicaid programs," Keene said.

Only a few doctors in North Carolina perform the procedures in their office.

Colon cancer kills more than 56,000 people nationwide each year.