TUESDAY, March 1 (HealthDay News) -- The use of virtual colonoscopies at U.S. hospitals is on the increase even though the procedure is not covered by Medicare, a new study finds.

Also referred to as computerized tomographic colonography (CTC), virtual colonoscopy uses virtual reality technology to provide doctors with a 3-D image that enables them to conduct an evaluation of the entire colon and rectum. CTC is an alternative to colonoscopy for colorectal cancer screening.

An analysis of data from the American Hospital Association annual surveys showed that the use of CTC increased from 13 percent of hospitals in 2005 to 17 percent of hospitals in 2008. The researchers also found that 69 percent of hospitals that offered CTC in 2008 also offered standard colonoscopy.

Factors that motivated hospitals to offer CTC included: the desire to provide an alternative colorectal cancer screening option for frail, elderly patients and patients with failed colonoscopy; long wait times for colonoscopy; and promising evidence in published studies about CTC.

The study is published in the March issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

"Our study is unique in that we show expansion even in the absence of Medicare reimbursement for CTC for general screening. CTC's relatively easy implementation coupled with patient acceptance makes CTC a tool that holds promise for the future of colorectal cancer prevention," lead author Megan McHugh said in a news release from the American College of Radiology.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about virtual colonoscopy.