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Use of CT scans in emergency rooms increased 330 percent in 12 years
Date:8/10/2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich. A review of national data from 1996 through 2007 reveals a sharp uptick in the use of computed tomography, or CT, scans to diagnose illnesses in emergency departments, a University of Michigan Health System study finds. The rate of CT use grew 11 times faster than the rate of ED visits during the study period.

The study also showed that the use of CT scans was less common early in the study period, but rose significantly over time. Just 3.2 percent of emergency patients received CT scans in 1996, while 13.9 percent of emergency patients seen in 2007 received them.

"This means that by 2007, 1 in 7 ED patients got a CT scan," says first author Keith Kocher, M.D., M.P.H., a clinical lecturer in U-M Department of Emergency Medicine. "It also means that about 25 percent of all the CT scans done in the United States are performed in the ED."

Using data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, compiled by the Centers for Disease Control, the researchers reviewed 1.29 billion weighted records of emergency visits between 1996 and 2007, 97.1 million of which included patients who received a CT scan. Their findings were published online ahead of print publication in the Annals of Emergency Medicine and highlighted as a featured article.

The study doesn't provide the reasons why CT use increased over time -- but "it does make one wonder," Kocher notes.

"There are risks to overuse of CT scans, because each scan involves radiation -- so if they're done for marginal reasons you have to question why," Kocher says. "For example, patients who complained of flank pain (pain in the side) had an almost 1 in 2 chance of getting a CT scan by the end of the study period. Usually most physicians are doing that to look for a kidney stone, but it's not clear if it's necessary to use a CT scan for that purpose."

He adds, "Also, during the study period, ED visits increased by about 30 percen
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Contact: Ian Demsky
idemsky@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
Source:Eurekalert

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