Background: Chest radiography (CXR) is frequently performed in Western societies. There is insufficient knowledge of its diagnostic value in terms of changes in patient management decisions in primary care.
Aim: To assess the influence of CXR on patient management in general practice.
Design of study: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: Seventy-eight GPs and three general hospitals in the Netherlands.
Method: Patients (n = 792) aged > or =18 years referred by their GPs for CXR were included. The main outcome was change in patient management assessed by means of questionnaires filled in by GPs before and after CXR.
Results: Mean age of the patients was 57.3+/-16.2 years and 53% were male. Clinically relevant abnormalities were found in 24% of the CXRs. Patient management changed in 60% of the patients following CXR. Main changes included: fewer referrals to a medical specialist (from 26 to 12%); reduction in initiation or change in therapy (from 24 to 15%); and more frequent reassurance (from 25 to 46%). However, this reassurance was not perceived as such in a quarter of these patients. A change in patient management occurred significantly more frequently in patients with complaints of cough (67%), those who exhibited abnormalities during physical examination (69%), or those with a suspected diagnosis of pneumonia (68%).
Conclusion: Patient management by the GP changed in 60% of patients following CXR. CXR substantially reduced the number of referrals and initiation or change in therapy, and more patients were reassured by their GP. Thus, CXR is an important diagnostic tool for GPs and seems a cost-effective diagnostic test.