Article Abstract

Development of a plain radiograph requesting algorithm for patients presenting with acute abdominal pain

Authors: Will Loughborough


Radiologists at a large teaching hospital felt that plain radiograph imaging was being performed inappropriately for patients admitted with acute abdominal pain. They felt requests were either not indicated or CT was a more appropriate first line radiological investigation in certain circumstances.

An audit was performed looking at plain radiograph imaging requests for emergency admissions under general surgery, using Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) guidelines as the standard. The audit revealed that only 80% of plain radiograph requests met RCR guidelines. It also showed that 33% of acute admissions undergoing plain radiograph imaging proceeded to CT within forty-eight hours. These findings lead to the development of a plain radiograph algorithm. This aimed to improve plain radiograph imaging requests and to increase the use of CT as an earlier or first line radiological investigation where appropriate.

Outcome of discussion at local and regional clinical governance meetings was that earlier CT would be useful in specific circumstances. The algorithm provides a framework for appropriately expediting CT in patients presenting with acute abdominal pain where bowel obstruction or perforation was suspected. However, consultant surgeons felt that in patients presenting with acute abdominal pain, the plain abdominal radiograph often demonstrates findings associated with specific diagnoses not specifically indicated by RCR guidelines. If RCR guidelines for plain radiograph imaging are broadened, radiological interpretation would examine for a broader range of findings and, when combined with other clinical information, diagnoses can be made, thus avoiding the need for further imaging or explorative surgery.