A cost effectiveness analysis of omitting radiography in diagnosis of acute bronchiolitis

Pediatr Pulmonol. 2009 Feb;44(2):122-7. doi: 10.1002/ppul.20948.


Objective: To carry out a cost-effectiveness analysis of omitting chest radiography in the diagnosis of infant bronchiolitis.

Hypothesis: Omitting chest radiographs in the diagnosis of typical bronchiolitis was expected to reduce costs without adversely affecting the detection rate of alternate diseases.

Study design: An economic evaluation was conducted using clinical and health resources. Emergency department (ED) physicians provided diagnoses pre- and post-radiography as well as a management plan. The primary outcome was the diagnostic accuracy (false-negative rate) of alternate diagnoses with and without X-ray. The incremental costs of omitting radiography in comparison to routine radiography per patient were assessed from a health system perspective.

Patient selection: We studied 265 infants, 2-23 months old, presenting at the ED with typical bronchiolitis. Patients with pre-existing conditions or radiographs were omitted from the study.

Methodology: Expected costs to the health care system of including and excluding chest radiographs were compared, including costs associated with misdiagnosis.

Results: All alternate diagnoses (two cases) were missed by ED physicians pre- and post-radiography, resulting in a 100% false negative rate. The specificity in detecting alternate diseases was 96.6% pre-radiography and 88.6% post-radiography. Of the 17 cases of coexistent pneumonia, 88% were missed pre-radiography and 59% post-radiography, with respective false positive rates of 10.5% and 16.1%. Omission of routine chest radiograph saved CDN $59 per patient, primarily due to savings in radiography and hospitalization costs. The economic benefit persisted after the inpatient length of stay, ED overhead and radiograph costs were varied.

Conclusion: For infants with typical bronchiolitis, omitting radiography is cost saving without compromising diagnostic accuracy of alternate diagnoses and of associated pneumonia.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Bronchiolitis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Bronchiolitis / economics*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Radiography