Objective: The authors' goal was to evaluate the accuracy of Technetium 99m-HMPAO-labeled leukocyte imaging for screening patients with atypically presenting appendicitis and to determine how availability of this test affected practice patterns of surgeons at the authors' medical center.
Summary background data: Appendicitis can be difficult to diagnose and in equivocal cases usually requires inpatient observation. The delay may increase morbidity and costs. A test that rules out acute appendicitis could be cost effective if it allowed early discharge from the emergency department. Previously, there have been no simple, rapid, accurate noninvasive methods for improving diagnostic accuracy in patients with equivocal presentations of appendicitis.
Methods: Patients referred to rule out appendicitis were analyzed. Patients were imaged up to 3 hours after injection of 10-mCi 99mTc-HMPAO-labeled autologous leukocytes (Tc-WBC), and when the scans became positive, imaging was terminated and the requesting physician notified of the results. Diagnostic accuracy was established by surgical and histopathologic findings or by absence of symptoms after 1 month clinical follow-up. The source of referral, hospital length of stay, disposition of patients, and ancillary tests (ultrasound, computed tomographic scan, and barium enema) were analyzed.
Results: One hundred twenty-four patients were studied from November 1991 through December 1995. Fifty-eight percent of positive scans showed uptake within 1 hour of injection and 73% by 2 hours. The Tc-WBC scan correctly identified an inflammatory source of abdominal pain in 65 of 66 cases (sensitivity = 98%) and was correctly negative in 55 of 58 cases (specificity = 95%). The scan correctly diagnosed appendicitis in 50 of 51 cases (sensitivity = 98%) and correctly excluded appendicitis in 62 of 73 cases (specificity = 85%). Outpatient referrals increased from 38% to 87%. In those patients with negativescans, inpatient observation, number of adjunctive tests, and length of stay decreased significantly.
Conclusions: The high sensitivity and negative predictive value of Tc-WBC imaging may permit patients to be screened and discharged from the emergency department. Focally positive scans often indicate disease requiring operation but not in all cases. The Tc-WBC imaging reduced the negative laparotomy rate to 3.9% while reducing admission rates and hospital length of stay.