Despite concerns about exposing patients to excessive amounts of radiation from CT scans, a Massachusetts General Hospital study finds that such tests avoided hospitalization in nearly one in four patients who came to the ED complaining of abdominal pain.
The research focused on non-traumatic abdominal complaints because they are common reason patients seek emergency department care, yet they are often difficult for a clinician to diagnose. Nevertheless abdominal complaints are a primary reason patients come to an ED, and were said to be responsible for 115 million patient visits in 2005.
The report, published in the American Journal of Roentgenology, compared emergency department clinicians' diagnostic decisions about these patients measured by their responses to a questionnaire at two time points: before an abdominal CT was administered and after the scans were completed.
"CT altered the leading diagnosis in 49% of the patients (284 of 584)...and increased mean physician diagnostic certainty from 70.5% (pre-CT) to 92.2% (post-CT)," the authors found.