Background: Peritonsillar abscess (PTA) is a common occurrence in adult patients, and an important question in such often-seen disease processes is whether we are treating these patients effectively, efficiently, and economically. We sought to determine if a diagnostic computed tomography (CT) scan was associated with a difference in clinical intervention in adult patients with PTA and if CT was associated with delaying this intervention. Methods: We conducted a retrospective case-control study examining therapeutic interventions in adults with PTA. Patients were divided into a control group (those diagnosed without CT, n=159) and a case group (those diagnosed with CT, n=203). Patients were examined for 3 outcomes: admission, bedside procedure (needle aspiration, incision/drainage), and surgical procedure (incision/drainage, tonsillectomy). In addition, we calculated times to admission, otolaryngology consultation, bedside procedure, and surgical procedure. Results: We found a significant association between CT and intervention, with the CT group more likely to be admitted (P< 0.001), the non-CT group more likely to undergo a bedside procedure (P<0.001), and the CT group more likely to undergo operative intervention (P=0.02). Mean times to otolaryngology consultation, admission, and bedside procedure were significantly longer in the CT group than in the non-CT group, determined by calculating the difference of the means with 95% confidence intervals for each comparison (P<0.001). Conclusion: We found that CT scans appear to be useful in the workup and treatment of adult patients with PTA, evidenced by significant differences in interventions between groups with and without CT scans. We also found that CT scans have the potential to delay these interventions, as the time to each intervention examined was significantly longer in patients who had a CT scan. Given the need to reduce cost, enhance efficiency, and eliminate harmful side effects (in this case, radiation exposure and delays in care), we question whether CT is the gold standard imaging method for diagnostic work up of PTA.
Keywords: Computed tomography; delayed diagnosis; management; peritonsillar abscess; treatment.
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