Efficacy of daily routine chest radiographs in intubated, mechanically ventilated patients

J B Hall, S R White, T Karrison
Critical Care Medicine 1991, 19 (5): 689-93

OBJECTIVE: To determine the efficacy of daily routine chest radiographs in intubated, mechanically ventilated patients.

DESIGN: With approval of our Institutional Review Board, data were collected prospectively to compare bedside clinical assessment of the patient with the routine chest radiograph in determining the occurrence of new findings. Before review of the daily chest film, patients underwent careful evaluation of clinical and physiologic variables by critical care physicians, who then documented the new findings and the diagnostic and therapeutic interventions required. These results were compared with the interpretations of the daily chest film by radiologists blinded to the clinical assessment. Correlations were made of the new major (requiring immediate intervention) and new minor (abnormal but not requiring immediate intervention) findings noted by clinical assessment and chest radiography.

SETTING: This study was conducted in a ten-bed medical/surgical ICU admitting 650 to 750 patients/yr, a majority of whom require intubation and mechanical ventilation.

PATIENTS: Seventy-seven episodes of intubation and mechanical ventilation in 74 patients were evaluated. Only patients with translaryngeal intubation and a requirement for mechanical ventilation beyond 24 hrs were considered for inclusion in this study. Major admitting diagnoses included malignancy, aspiration pneumonia, sepsis, liver failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and adult respiratory distress syndrome.

INTERVENTIONS: Specific interventions were not made by study design; instead, clinical practice with and without the routine chest radiograph was compared.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: The measure of comparison between the chest radiograph and clinical assessment was the correlation between the two for a number of major and minor findings defined in advance. A total of 538 chest radiographs were examined; of these, 354 (65.8%) did not disclose either new major or new minor findings as defined. One hundred sixty-three radiographs disclosed only new minor findings, 40.5% of which were anticipated by bedside assessment. However, in 13 (17.6%, 95% confidence interval 9% to 26%) of our 74 patients, new major findings were discovered only by chest radiography.

CONCLUSIONS: These data demonstrate that, while a large percentage of radiographs will not disclose new findings, routine daily studies have a substantial impact on the management of intubated, mechanically ventilated patients in the ICU. These findings support the use of daily chest radiographs in critically ill patients.

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