Are abdominal radiographs still overutilized in the assessment of acute abdominal pain? A district general hospital audit

J R Coll Surg Edinb. 1998 Aug;43(4):267-70.


Several studies have shown that plain film radiography (PFR) is unnecessary for most patients with abdominal pain. To evaluate the current-day utilization of PFR, we retrospectively reviewed 224 patients presenting to an emergency department with acute abdominal pain. Plain film radiography was performed in 55.8% (125/224) of patients, but only 10.4% (13/125) of these were diagnostic. Most patients with non-specific abdominal pain had radiographs (62%, 31/50), suggesting that PFR was being used as a routine investigation. Plain film radiography has little in the diagnosis of most causes of abdominal pain and should therefore not be used routinely. Confining radiography to patients with suspected gastrointestinal obstruction, perforation or ischaemia, unexplained peritonism, or renal colic would have included all our diagnostic films and reduced the utilization of PFR to 20.5%. The reasons for inappropriate requests and issues concerning the use of emergency radiography are discussed. Staff education, departmental protocols and increased out-of-hours ultrasonography facilities are recommended to reduce the inappropriate use of PFR.

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen, Acute / diagnostic imaging*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Clinical Competence
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Hospitals, District
  • Hospitals, General
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Audit
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography, Abdominal / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Unnecessary Procedures*