US Emergency Department Trends in Imaging for Pediatric Nontraumatic Abdominal Pain

Lauren M Niles, Monika K Goyal, Gia M Badolato, James M Chamberlain, Joanna S Cohen
Pediatrics 2017, 140 (4)

OBJECTIVES: To describe national emergency department (ED) trends in computed tomography (CT) and ultrasound imaging for the evaluation of pediatric nontraumatic abdominal pain from 2007 through 2014.

METHODS: We used data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey to measure trends in CT and ultrasound use among children with nontraumatic abdominal pain. We performed multivariable logistic regression to measure the strength of the association of ED type (pediatric versus general ED) with CT and ultrasound use adjusting for potential confounding variables.

RESULTS: Of an estimated 21.1 million ED visits for nontraumatic abdominal pain, 14.6% (95% confidence interval [CI], 13.2%-16.0%) had CT imaging only, 10.9% (95% CI, 9.7%-12.1%) had ultrasound imaging only, and 1.9% (95% CI, 1.4%-2.4%) received both CT and ultrasound. The overall use of CT and ultrasound did not significantly change over the study period ( P trend .63 and .90, respectively). CT use was lower among children treated in pediatric EDs compared with general EDs (adjusted odds ratio 0.34; 95% CI, 0.17-0.69). Conversely, ultrasound use was higher among children treated in pediatric EDs compared with general EDs (adjusted odds ratio 2.14; 95% CI, 1.29-3.55).

CONCLUSIONS: CT imaging for pediatric patients with nontraumatic abdominal pain has plateaued since 2007 after the steady increase seen in the preceding 9 years. Among this population, an increased likelihood of CT imaging was demonstrated in general EDs compared with pediatric EDs, in which there was a higher likelihood of ultrasound imaging. Dissemination of pediatric-focused radiology protocols to general EDs may help optimize radiation exposure in children.

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