Objective: To determine the effects and net costs of routine chest radiographs in a medical intensive care unit (ICU).
Design: A prospective, cohort study. A survey of experts in critical care and pulmonary diseases was undertaken to assess the effect of routine radiographs on patient management.
Setting: Medical ICU of a university hospital.
Patients: Eighty randomly selected patients admitted to a medical ICU. Two hundred fourteen experts were surveyed; 118 (55%)/214 responded.
Measurements and main results: Daily interviews with medical ICU clinicians were conducted to assess the radiographic findings in the routine radiographs and actions taken based on these findings. Experts evaluated the findings, their importance, the actions taken, and the probability of complications if the actions had not been taken at that time. Experts also predicted increases in length of stay associated with these complications. Presence of radiographic findings, changes in management because of the findings, net costs of routine chest radiographs, cost per finding that prompted an action, and expected changes in length of stay resulting from the actions were also assessed. Seventy-two (33%) of 221 routine radiographs (95% confidence interval: 25% to 39%) had findings, of which 44 (61%) were judged important, and 18 (8%, 95% confidence interval: 5% to 12%) prompted actions. Experts predicted that each action averted, on average, 2.1 +/- 1.7 days (SD) in the medical ICU. Mean savings per routine radiograph was $98. Net savings from routine chest radiographs remained after sensitivity analysis for expected change in length of stay, percentage of patients with routine radiographs, and percentage of routine radiographs that produce changes in management.
Conclusion: The policy of obtaining routine chest radiographs in the medical ICU is effective and results in net savings.