Advanced imaging and trends in hospitalizations from the emergency department

PLoS One. 2020 Sep 16;15(9):e0239059. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239059. eCollection 2020.


Objective: The proportion of US emergency department (ED) visits that lead to hospitalization has declined over time. The degree to which advanced imaging use contributed to this trend is unknown. Our objective was to examine the association between advanced imaging use during ED visits and changes in ED hospitalization rates between 2007-2008 and 2015-2016.

Methods: We analyzed data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. The primary outcome was ED hospitalization, including admission to inpatient and observation units and outside transfers. The primary exposure was advanced imaging during the ED visit, including computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and ultrasound. We constructed a survey-weighted multivariable logistic regression with binary outcome of ED hospitalization to examine changes in adjusted hospitalization rates from 2007-2008 to 2015-2016, comparing ED visits with and without advanced imaging.

Results: ED patients who received advanced imaging (versus those who did not) were more likely to be 65 years or older (25.3% vs 13.0%), non-Hispanic white (65.3% vs 58.5%), female (58.4% vs 54.1%), and have Medicare (26.5% vs 16.0%). Among ED visits with advanced imaging, adjusted annual hospitalization rate declined from 22.5% in 2007-2008 to 17.3% (adjusted risk ratio [aRR] 0.77; 95% CI 0.68, 0.86) in 2015-2016. In the same periods, among ED visits without advanced imaging, adjusted annual hospitalization rate declined from 14.3% to 11.6% (aRR 0.81; 95% CI 0.73, 0.90). The aRRs between ED visits with and without advanced imaging were not significantly different.

Conclusion: From 2007-2016, ED visits with advanced imaging did not have a greater reduction in admission rate compared to those without advanced imaging. Our results suggest that increasing advanced imaging use likely had a limited role in the general decline in hospital admissions from EDs. Future research is needed to further validate this finding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diagnostic Imaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Diagnostic Imaging / trends*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / trends*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitalization / trends*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Medicare
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • United States

Grants and funding

SCC and JDS received support from the Emergency Medicine Foundation’s ED clinical work intensity grant. The sponsors had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.