Importance of Radiologists in Optimizing Outcomes for Older Americans with Acute Abdomen

J Surg Res. 2021 May;261:361-368. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2020.12.022. Epub 2021 Jan 22.


Background: Patients presenting with acute abdominal pain often undergo a computed tomography (CT) scan as part of their diagnostic workup. We investigated the relationship between availability, timeliness, and interpretation of CT imaging and outcomes for life-threatening intra-abdominal diseases or "acute abdomen," in older Americans.

Methods: Data from a 2015 national survey of 2811 hospitals regarding emergency general surgery structures and processes (60.1% overall response, n = 1690) were linked to 2015 Medicare inpatient claims data. We identified beneficiaries aged ≥65 admitted emergently with a confirmatory acute abdomen diagnosis code and operative intervention on the same calendar date. Multivariable regression models adjusted for significant covariates determined odds of complications and mortality based on CT resources.

Results: We identified 9125 patients with acute abdomen treated at 1253 hospitals, of which 78% had ≥64-slice CT scanners and 85% had 24/7 CT technicians. Overnight CT reads were provided by in-house radiologists at 14% of hospitals and by teleradiologists at 66%. Patients were predominantly 65-74 y old (43%), white (88%), females (60%), and with ≥3 comorbidities (67%) and 8.6% died. STAT radiology reads by a board-certified radiologist rarely/never available in 2 h was associated with increased odds of systemic complication and mortality (adjusted odds ratio 2.6 [1.3-5.4] and 2.3 [1.1-4.8], respectively).

Conclusions: Delays obtaining results are associated with adverse outcomes in older patients with acute abdomen. This may be due to delays in surgical consultation and time to source control while waiting for imaging results. Processes to ensure timely interpretation of CT scans in patients with abdominal pain may improve outcomes in high-risk patients.

Keywords: Acute abdomen; Diagnostic radiology; Emergency general surgery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen, Acute / diagnostic imaging*
  • Abdomen, Acute / mortality*
  • Abdomen, Acute / surgery
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology*
  • Radiology / statistics & numerical data*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*
  • United States / epidemiology