An elevated D-dimer value: a burden on our patients and hospitals

Int J Gen Med. 2012;5:87-92. doi: 10.2147/IJGM.S25027. Epub 2012 Jan 25.


With 200,000 annual deaths in the United States due to pulmonary embolism (PE), efficient and accurate diagnosis is mandatory. Since negative D-dimer values are only useful in ruling out PE, elevated values alone should not result in excessive testing. This study assessed the diagnostic and financial yield of the D-dimer in diagnosing PE. This retrospective review of 220 medical records of patients at a South Chicago Community Hospital explored the extent of the work-up following an elevated D-dimer for a suspected PE. Patients were randomly selected with no exclusion criteria. Five of the 118 (4.2%) patients with elevated D-dimer values were diagnosed with a PE. Tests ordered based on elevated D-dimer values were billed for more than $200,000. The current diagnostic approach has been medically and financially inefficient. Patients should not be worked-up for a PE based primarily on an elevated D-dimer value. Two prominent factors, independent of PE, that result in elevated D-dimer values and were pertinent to the studied population, are age and African-American origin. Implementing a scoring system, like the revised-Geneva scale, will establish a better index of suspicion to improve both the physician's diagnostic approach and the yield of the work-up.

Keywords: African-Americans; D-dimer; age; diagnosis; pulmonary embolism; scoring.