Abdominal cross-sectional imaging for inpatients with abnormal liver function test results: yield and usefulness

Arch Intern Med. 2001 Feb 26;161(4):583-8. doi: 10.1001/archinte.161.4.583.


Background: Abdominal cross-sectional imaging is often performed to evaluate abnormal liver function test (LFT) results in hospitalized patients. However, few data are available regarding the yield and usefulness of imaging inpatients for the indication of abnormal LFT results, the process of requesting abdominal imaging studies, or the response to their findings.

Methods: We retrospectively reviewed abdominal imaging scans that were obtained during a 27-month period. We matched the imaging studies done with the indication of abnormal LFT results; all scans were requested using computerized physician order entry. Reports were coded for interpretation and associated process step results. To determine the usefulness of the imaging studies, a random sample of patient charts with positively coded imaging studies were reviewed. Imaging examinations were considered useful if they provided new diagnostic information and/or changed subsequent patient care.

Results: Of 6494 abdominal imaging studies, 856 were performed for the indication of abnormal LFT results and matched to both image reports and laboratory results. Report coding judged 37% of interpretations as clinically significant, including 27% with "positive" (abnormal results and explain the abnormal LFT results) examinations. Among the positive examinations, the most common diagnoses were biliary obstruction (25%), cholecystitis (21%), malignancy (20%), and cirrhosis (14%). Positively coded reports provided new clinical information in 63% of these studies and changed patient care in 42% of cases. Process measures assessed provision of additional information to and from radiologists (69% and 8%, respectively) and the frequency with which the findings of current abdominal imaging studies were compared with those of prior studies (59%).

Conclusion: Abdominal cross-sectional imaging studies performed on inpatients with abnormal LFT results had a high diagnostic yield and frequently changed patient care.

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / diagnostic imaging*
  • Case Management
  • Digestive System / diagnostic imaging
  • Digestive System Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Liver Function Tests*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Ultrasonography