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Old Fashion Clinical Judgment in the Era of Protocols: Is Mandatory Chest X-Ray Necessary in Injured Patients?

Sears, Benjamin W. MS; Luchette, Fred A. MD; Esposito, Thomas J. MD, MPH; Dickson, Elizabeth L. BS; Grant, Mark MD, MPH; Santaniello, John M. MD; Jodlowski, Christopher R. BS; Davis, Kimberly A. MD; Poulakidas, Stathis J. MD; Gamelli, Richard L. MD

Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery: August 2005 - Volume 59 - Issue 2 - p 324-332
doi: 10.1097/01.ta.0000179450.01434.90
Original Articles

Background: The ATLS® course advocates that injured patients have a chest x-ray (CXR) to identify potential injuries. The purpose of this study was to correlate clinical indications and clinician judgment with CXR results to ascertain if a selective policy would be beneficial.

Methods: Patients treated at a Level I trauma center over 12 months were prospectively evaluated. Before obtaining a CXR, signs, symptoms, and history suggestive of thoracic injury were identified. Additionally, a trauma surgeon (TS) recorded whether in his or her judgment a CXR was clinically indicated. These findings were compared with final CXR diagnoses. The sensitivity of individual clinical indicators, combinations of clinical indicators, and TS judgment for CXR abnormalities were calculated with a 95% confidence interval.

Results: During the 12-month study period, data were acquired on 772 patients (age 0–102 years). Seventy percent were male and 86.0% were injured by blunt force. Only 29% (N = 222) of the patients manifested one or more of the clinical indicators (signs and symptoms). The negative predictive value for the TS judgment was 98.2% which was superior to the clinical indicators. Reliance on the opinion of the TS to determine the need for a CXR would have eliminated 49.9% of CXRs and avoided hospital and radiologist reading charges totaling $100,078.22.

Conclusion: Mandatory CXR for all trauma patients has a low yield for abnormal findings. A selective policy relying on surgical judgment guided by clinical indicators is safe and efficacious while reducing cost and conserving resources.

From the Stritch School of Medicine (B.W.S., T.J.E., E.L.D., M.G., C.R.J., K.A.D.), and the Division of Trauma, Critical Care and Burns, Department of Surgery (F.A.L., T.J.E., J.M.S., K.A.D., S.J.P., R.L.G.), Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Illinois.

Submitted for publication October 7, 2004.

Accepted for publication May 4, 2005.

Presented at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, September 29–October 2, 2004, Maui, Hawaii.

Address for reprints: Fred A. Luchette, MD, Department of Surgery, 2160 South First Avenue, Maywood, IL 60153; email:

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.