Incidental radiographic findings after injury: dedicated attention results in improved capture, documentation, and management

Surgery. 2010 Oct;148(4):618-24. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2010.07.017. Epub 2010 Aug 12.


Background: With liberal use of computed tomography in the diagnostic management of trauma patients, incidental findings are common and represent a major patient-care and medical-legal concern. Consequently, we began an initiative to capture, notify, and documentadequately incidental finding events with a dedicated incidental finding coordinator. We hypothesized a dedicated incidental finding coordinator would increase incidental finding capture and promote notification, follow-up, and documentation of incidental finding events.

Methods: A quality-improvement project to record and follow-up incidental findings postinjury was initiated at our level I trauma center (April 2007-March 2008, prededicated incidental finding). Because of concerns for inadequate documentation of identified incidental finding events, we implemented a dedicated incidental finding coordinator (April 2008-March 2009, postdedicated incidental finding). The dedicated incidental finding coordinator documented incidental findings daily from trauma admission radiology final reads. Incidental findings were divided into 3 groups; category 1: attention prior to discharge; category 2: follow-up with primary doctor within 2 weeks; category 3: no specific follow-up. For category 1 incidental findings, in-hospital consultation of the appropriate service was verified. On discharge, patient notification, follow-up, and documentation of events were confirmed. Certified mail or telephone contact was used to notify either the patient or the primary doctor in those who lacked appropriate notification or documentation.

Results: Admission rates and incidental finding categories were similar across the 2 time periods. Implementation of a dedicated incidental finding coordinator resulted in more than a 165% increase in incidental finding capture (n = 802 vs n = 302; P < .001). Patient notification was attempted, and appropriate documentation of events was confirmed in 99.8% of patients. Patient notification was verified, and follow-up was initiated in 95.8% of cases.

Conclusion: The implementation of a dedicated incidental finding coordinator resulted in more than a 2.5-fold higher capture of incidental findings. Dedicated attention to incidental findings resulted in a near complete initiation of patient notification, follow-up, and hospital record documentation of incidental finding events. Inadequate patient notification and follow-up would delay appropriate care and potentially would result in morbidity or even mortality. A dedicated incidental finding coordinator represents a potential solution to this patient-care and medical-legal dilemma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Disclosure
  • Documentation
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings*
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Radiography
  • Trauma Centers / standards
  • Wounds and Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Young Adult