Introduction: Chest x-rays (CXRs) are the most frequent radiological tests performed in the intensive care unit (ICU). However, the utility of performing daily routine CXRs is unclear.
Methods: We searched Medline and Embase (1948 to March 2011) for randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and before-after observational studies comparing a strategy of routine CXRs to a more restrictive approach with CXRs performed to investigate clinical changes among critically ill adults or children. In duplicate, we extracted data on the CXR strategy, study quality and clinical outcomes (ICU and hospital mortality; duration of mechanical ventilation and ICU and hospital stay).
Results: Nine studies (39,358 CXRs; 9,611 patients) were included in the meta-analysis. Three trials (N = 870) of moderate to good quality provided information on the safety of a restrictive routine CXR strategy; only one trial systematically assessed for missed findings. Pooled data from trials showed no evidence of effect of a restrictive approach on ICU mortality (risk ratio [RR] 1.04, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.84 to 1.28, P = 0.72; two trials, N = 776), hospital mortality (RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.41, P = 0.91; two trials, N = 259), ICU length of stay (weighted mean difference [WMD] -0.86 days, 95% CI -2.38 to 0.66 days, P = 0.27; three trials, N = 870), hospital length of stay (WMD -2.50 days, 95% CI -6.62 to 1.61 days, P = 0.23; two trials, N = 259), or duration of mechanical ventilation (WMD -0.30 days, 95% CI -1.48 to 0.89 days, P = 0.62; three trials, N = 705). Adding data from six observational studies, one of which systematically screened for missed findings, gave similar results.
Conclusions: This meta-analysis did not detect any harm associated with a restrictive chest radiograph strategy. However, confidence intervals were wide and harm was not rigorously assessed. Therefore, the safety of abandoning routine CXRs in patients admitted to the ICU remains uncertain.