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July 1995

Utility of Routine Chest Radiographs in the Surgical Intensive Care UnitA Prospective Study

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Surgery, Cornell University Medical College, New York, NY.

Arch Surg. 1995;130(7):764-768. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1995.01430070086017

Objectives:  To correlate patient condition and reasons for obtaining chest radiographs (CXRs) with the utility of CXRs in critical illness and to determine the potential impact of stricter criteria for obtaining a CXR in a surgical intensive care unit (ICU).

Design:  Inception cohort study of 1003 CXRs examined prospectively.

Patients and Setting:  A total of 157 consecutive patients admitted to the general surgical ICU of a 780-bed, urban, university-affiliated, tertiary care hospital.

Intervention:  Nothing was done to influence the ordering of CXRs.

Outcome Measures:  Influence of CXR findings on clinical management.

Results:  The likelihood of a clinically important finding was 17% for CXRs obtained for no clear clinical indication (routine), 26% for those obtained to verify the position of a medical device, and 30% for those obtained for suspected clinical conditions. By univariate analysis, suspected pathophysiologic condition, admission APACHE II (Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II) score, presence of a central venous or Swan-Ganz catheter, and length of ICU stay were all predictors of a significant finding. By multivariate analysis, the only independent predictor of a finding was a suspected clinical condition, and the only indwelling medical device that was an independent predictor of a finding was a Swan-Ganz catheter. If the criterion that routine CXRs should only be obtained in patients with Swan-Ganz catheters had been used, 200 CXRs would have been avoided during the 3-month study period. The only findings missed by not obtaining those CXRs would have been two malpositioned nasogastric tubes and one malpositioned central venous catheter.

Conclusions:  Chest radiographs should only be obtained on surgical ICU patients for specific indications. Routine CXRs for ICU patients are justified only for patients with indwelling Swan-Ganz catheters. (Arch Surg. 1995;130:764-768)