Fractures in children may not be visible in the result of initial radiography, and undertreatment and overtreatment of such fractures routinely occur. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the potential cost of implementing limited magnetic resonance imaging (MRI
) at initial encounter, when radiographs are unrevealing.
This was a retrospective review of 204 emergency department pediatric patients presenting between January 1, 2005 and February 28, 2006 with appendicular trauma, with initially negative radiographic result and follow-up. Emergency department treatment categorization of (1) no treatment, (2) ACE wrap, (3) brace, (4) splint, or (5) casting was evaluated. Final determination of presence or absence of fracture was based on follow-up. Patients with fractures were considered undertreated when they received categories 1 to 3 care; patients without fractures were considered overtreated when they received categories 4 and 5 care. The percentage of patients undertreated or overtreated and direct and total costs were determined and analyzed in conjunction with the cost of a limited MRI
at initial encounter. Total costs include direct and indirect costs (lost wages for each day off work for the parent). Cost estimates assume patients determined to be without fractures at follow-up will not return for follow-up clinical care or obtain additional imaging after MRI
at initial encounter.
Twenty-eight (13.7%) of the 204 patients had fractures at follow-up. Fifty one percent of patients without fractures were overtreated; 29% with fractures were undertreated. Mean direct cost for all patients and cost estimation with limited MRI
protocol were $843.81 and $891.79, respectively (P
= 0.365). However, mean total cost for all patients and cost estimation with limited MRI
protocol was $1059.49 and $929.10, respectively (P
Based on clinical grounds and initially negative radiographic results, slightly more than half of patients without fractures can be overtreated, and nearly one third of patients with fractures can be undertreated. Instituting a protocol that includes limited trauma MRI
lowers the total cost of care without increasing direct cost, and appropriate care may be instituted at the outset.