Catching Those Who Fall Through the Cracks: Integrating a Follow-Up Process for Emergency Department Patients with Incidental Radiologic Findings

Ann Emerg Med. 2022 Sep;80(3):235-242. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2022.04.026. Epub 2022 Jun 23.


Study objective: Abnormal findings unrelated to the indication for testing are identified on emergency department (ED) imaging studies. We report the design and implementation of an electronic health record-based interdisciplinary referral system and our experience from the first 13 months of ensuring that patients with incidental radiology findings were connected with the appropriate outpatient surveillance.

Methods: Our informatics team standardized the contemporaneous reporting of critical radiology alerts using our ED trackboard and created a companion follow-up request form for the treating ED clinicians to complete. The forms were routed to nurse case managers, who arranged follow-ups based on the findings and clinical significance. The primary outcome was the proportion of ED patient visits with identified incidental findings that had documented communication of the incidental findings and surveillance plans.

Results: Over the first 13 months after implementation, 932 ED patient visits had critical radiology alert referrals, for a total of 982 incidental findings. The primary outcome (confirmed post-ED communication and documented follow-up plan) was attained in 888 (95.3%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 93.9% to 96.6%) ED patient visits with confirmed post-ED communication and documented follow-up plans. The team was unable to contact or confirm follow-up with 44 (4.7%, 95% CI 3.4 to 6.1) patients by telephone or through the health care system's electronic communication tools.

Conclusion: We report the implementation of a standardized notification and referral system for ED patients with incidental radiology findings. The development of a reliable notification and follow-up system is an important patient safety intervention given the opportunity to potentially identify undiagnosed malignancies.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Radiology* / methods