Objectives: To evaluate the effect of formal radiological reporting of all emergency department (ED) radiographs on clinical practice and patient outcome, and to consider whether a selective reporting policy might prove safe and effective.
Methods: All radiographs taken in a single ED over a six month period were prospectively studied simultaneously in both the emergency and radiology departments to detect cases where a radiograph that was considered normal by ED staff was then reported as abnormal by the reporting radiologist. Whenever such a discrepancy occurred the patient's records were scrutinised to ascertain the source of the discrepancy, with a gold standard interpretation derived from senior clinical review and additional investigations where indicated. The clinical impact of the radiologist's formal report was then assessed. Accuracy of interpretation was considered in relation to the grade of ED staff and the radiographic examination obtained.
Results: During the study period, 19 468 new patient attendances to the ED generated 11 749 radiographic examinations. Discrepancies were detected in 175 patients (1.5% of all radiographic examinations). Of these, 136 (1.2%) were subsequently shown to have been incorrectly interpreted in the ED (ED false negatives), with 40 patients (0.3%) undergoing a change in management as a result. In the remaining 39 the ED interpretation was judged to be correct (radiology false positives), with 16 patients undergoing further investigations or visits to the ED to confirm this.
Conclusions: The formal reporting of ED radiographs by the radiology department detects a number of clinically important abnormalities that have been overlooked. However, this formal reporting also generates a number of incorrect interpretations that may lead to further unnecessary investigations. Some groups of ED radiographs (such as those interpreted by an ED consultant and films of the fingers and toes) may not require formal radiological reporting. The adoption of a selective reporting policy may reduce the reporting workload of the radiology department without compromising patient care.
- emergency department
- radiology report
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Conflicts of interest: none.