Frequency and follow-up of incidental findings on trauma computed tomography scans: experience at a level one trauma center

J Emerg Med. 2010 Apr;38(3):346-50. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2008.01.021. Epub 2008 Sep 19.


Objectives: Incidental findings found on computed tomography (CT) scan during the Emergency Department evaluation of trauma patients are often benign, but their presence must always be communicated to patients, who should be referred for follow-up care. Our objective was to quantify the frequency of these incidental CT findings in trauma patients. A secondary goal was to determine how often these lesions were communicated to patients and how often patients were referred for follow-up.

Methods: We performed a retrospective chart review of 500 consecutive patients presenting as trauma activations. Subjects received head, chest, or abdomen/pelvis CT scans at our hospital. Patients were identified using our trauma registry. Final CT reports were examined and discharge summaries were reviewed for basic demographics. Scans with incidental findings prompted detailed secondary review of discharge summaries to determine follow-up. Investigators reviewed incidental findings and classified them into three groups by clinical importance, using predetermined criteria.

Results: Of the 500 patient charts identified for review, 480 (96%) were available, yielding 1930 CT reports for analysis. Incidental findings were noted in 211 of 480 (43%) patients and on 285 (15%) of the 1930 CT studies performed for the 480 patients. Of available patient records, only 27% of patient charts had mention of the finding in the discharge summary, had documentation of an in-hospital workup, or had documentation of a referral for follow-up. Most-concerning lesions, such as suspected malignancies or aortic aneurysms, accounted for 15% of all incidental findings and were referred for follow-up in only 49% of cases.

Conclusions: Incidental findings were noted in 15% of trauma CT scans. Follow-up was poor, even for potentially serious findings. Further studies should examine the long-term outcome of patients with these findings.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Incidental Findings*
  • Male
  • Patient Discharge
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / statistics & numerical data*
  • Trauma Centers*