Association between advanced image ordered in the emergency department on subsequent imaging for abdominal pain patients

Acad Emerg Med. 2022 Sep;29(9):1078-1083. doi: 10.1111/acem.14541. Epub 2022 Jun 30.


Background: Abdominal pain is associated with high rates of emergency department (ED) imaging utilization and revisits. While imaging often improves diagnosis, a better understanding is needed on when the decision to image is justified and how it influences subsequent resource utilization and outcomes for patients in the ED presenting with abdominal pain. We evaluated the association between advanced ED imaging on subsequent outpatient imaging and on revisits among abdominal pain patients discharged from the ED.

Methods: A retrospective, observational study was conducted using electronic health record data from an academic ED in the U.S. Midwest. A sample of Medicare patients with a chief complaint of abdominal pain from January 2013 to December 2016 following ED evaluation were included in the analysis. Logistic regression was used to estimate associations between receiving advanced imaging in the ED and subsequent outpatient imaging within 7-, 14-, and 28-day windows after discharge, and 30-day revisit rates to the study ED and to any ED.

Results: Of the 1385 ED visits with abdominal pain chief complaint and discharged home from the ED, individuals who were not imaged in the ED had significantly higher adjusted odds of being imaged outside the ED within 7 days (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 6.65, 95% confidence interval [CI] 3.96-11.17, p < 0.001), 14 days (aOR 4.69, 95% CI 3.11-7.07, p < 0.001), and 28 days (aOR 3.1, 95% CI 2.25-4.27, p < 0.001) of being discharged and had a significantly higher adjusted odds of revisiting the study ED (aOR 1.65, 95% CI 1.29-2.12, p < 0.001) and revisiting any ED (aOR 1.47, 95% CI 1.16-1.86, p = 0.001) within 30 days of being discharged.

Conclusions: Abdominal imaging in the ED was associated with significantly lower imaging utilization after discharge and 30-day revisit rates, suggesting that imaging in the ED may replace downstream outpatient imaging.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Abdominal Pain / etiology
  • Aged
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Medicare*
  • Patient Discharge
  • Patient Readmission*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States