Appropriateness of adult plain abdominal radiograph requesting in a regional Emergency Department

Michelle Fernandez, Simon Craig

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Introduction: Although commonly ordered, abdominal x-rays are thought to be overused and unhelpful in many emergency department patients. Our objectives were to evaluate the appropriateness of plain abdominal X-ray (AXR) requests in adult patients presenting to a Victorian regional emergency department (ED). Methods: A retrospective chart review was performed of all adult patients with a plain AXR requested by ED medical staff members in a regional healthcare centre in Victoria, Australia in 2016. Patient demographics, ED disposition and any further imaging results were extracted from the medical record. Indications for X-ray and clinician seniority were determined from the radiology request slips signed by the treating emergency doctor. Appropriateness of imaging was determined by comparing the indication for abdominal radiograph to local evidence-based guidelines. Results: One hundred and nine episodes of plain AXR requests met the inclusion criteria. Of these, 40 were considered inappropriate according to clinical guidelines. Overall, 36% (39/109) had normal or non-specific findings and 42% (46/109) demonstrated faecal loading, while 22% (24/109) identified pathology. Thirty-three patients had further imaging, mostly with computed tomography (CT). Junior staff members were responsible for most of the AXR requests. Conclusion: In our regional hospital ED, over one third of AXRs requested for adult patients were inappropriate according to clinical guidelines. AXRs have a low diagnostic yield and frequently do not reduce the need for further imaging. The use of a clinical practice guideline and education of junior medical staff may increase the appropriate use of plain AXRs in the regional ED setting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-182
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Oncology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • abdominal X-ray
  • emergency department
  • guideline

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