OBJECTIVES: (1) To establish the proportion of blood cultures that yield a positive microbiological culture. (2) To determine what proportion of blood cultures taken in the emergency department impact on patient management. (3) To develop guidelines for the appropriate ordering of blood cultures from patients in the emergency department (ED). METHODS: Retrospective review of all blood cultures taken in the ED of a metropolitan teaching hospital between 26 September 1995 and 30 June 1996. RESULTS: One thousand and sixty two blood cultures were taken from patients in the ED during the study period. Ninety two (9%) returned a positive microbiological culture. Of these, 52 (5%) were "true" positives and 18 (1.6%) resulted in changes in management. CONCLUSIONS: Blood cultures taken in the ED rarely yield positive cultures. Only 1.6% of blood cultures taken in the ED impact on management of patients. Simple strategies could reduce the number of blood cultures ordered with little prospect of patient compromise.
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