Objective: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the prevalence of incidental extracardiac findings on coronary CT, to determine the associated downstream resource utilization, and to estimate additional costs per patient related to the associated diagnostic workup.
Materials and methods: This retrospective study examined incidental extracardiac findings in 151 consecutive adults (69.5% men and 30.5% women; mean age, 54 years) undergoing coronary CT during a 7-year period. Incidental findings were recorded, and medical records were reviewed for downstream diagnostic examinations for a follow-up period of 1 year (minimum) to 7 years (maximum). Costs of further workup were estimated using 2009 Medicare average reimbursement figures.
Results: There were 102 incidental extracardiac findings in 43% (65/151) of patients. Fifty-two percent (53/102) of findings were potentially clinically significant, and 81% (43/53) of these findings were newly discovered. The radiology reports made specific follow-up recommendations for 36% (19/53) of new significant findings. Only 4% (6/151) of patients actually underwent follow-up imaging or intervention for incidental findings. One patient was found to have a malignancy that was subsequently treated. The average direct costs of additional diagnostic workup were $17.42 per patient screened (95% CI, $2.84-$32.00) and $438.39 per patient with imaging follow-up (95% CI, $301.47-$575.31).
Conclusion: Coronary CT frequently reveals potentially significant incidental extracardiac abnormalities, yet radiologists recommend further evaluation in only one-third of cases. An even smaller fraction of cases receive further workup. The failure to follow-up abnormal incidental findings may result in missed opportunities to detect early disease, but also limits the short-term attributable costs.