Study objective: Cranial computed tomography (CT) has assumed a critical role in the practice of emergency medicine for the evaluation of intracranial emergencies. Several recent studies have documented a deficiency in the emergency physician's ability to interpret these studies. The purpose of this study was to quantify the baseline ability of emergency medicine residents to interpret cranial CTs, and to test a novel method of cranial CT interpretation designed for the emergency physician in training.
Methods: A standardized pretest was administered to assess baseline ability to interpret CT scans. A standardized posttest was given 3 months after the course. Each test consisted of 12 CT scans with a short accompanying history. All scans were validated by 3 expert reviewers for difficulty and diagnosis. A 2-hour course based on the mnemonic "Blood Can Be Very Bad" was then administered. "Blood" reminds the examiner to search for blood, "Can" prompts the examiner to identify 4 key cisterns, "Be" denotes the need to examine the brain, "Very" prompts a review of the 4 ventricles, and finally "Bad" reminds the examiner to evaluate the bones of the cranium.
Results: Eighty-three residents at 5 institutions were initially examined. The mean percentage correct before the course was 60% (95% confidence interval [CI] 58%-64%) on the standardized pretest. At retesting 3 months after the course, the accuracy rate increased to 78% (n=61, 95% CI 75%-81%, P<.001 paired t test).
Conclusion: Emergency medicine residents are deficient in their ability to interpret cranial CT scans. A novel educational course was demonstrated to significantly improve this ability.