OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study is to document the impact of CT performed in the emergency department of patients presenting with nontraumatic acute abdominal pain.
SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Fifty-seven patients were enrolled in this prospective study. Using a computer order entry system, emergency department physicians were required to report their most likely diagnosis, level of certainty, and management plan for their patients before ordering abdominal CT. After CT was performed, each physician was required to provide again his or her diagnosis, level of diagnostic certainty, and treatment plan. The outcome of each patient was evaluated by either surgery, other imaging studies, or clinical follow-up.
RESULTS: After the abdominal CT, physicians' mean level of certainty in their diagnoses increased by 1.5 points (on a five-point scale; p < 0.0001). Patient management was changed in 33 (60.0%) of 55 patients. Planned treatment before CT was admission in 42 patients. Actual admissions after CT totaled 32 patients (excluding the two patients in whom preimaging information was not recorded). Thus, the net effect of abdominal CT scanning was to avert 10 (23.8%) of 42 hospital admissions.
CONCLUSION: CT performed in the emergency department increases the physician's level of certainty, reduces hospital admission rates by 23.8%, and leads to more timely surgical intervention.