Contrast-enhanced helical CT for pulmonary embolism detection: inter- and intraobserver agreement among radiologists with variable experience

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1999 Jan;172(1):107-12. doi: 10.2214/ajr.172.1.9888748.


Objective: The objective of this study was to evaluate inter- and intraobserver agreement in the diagnosis of central pulmonary embolism using contrast-enhanced helical CT among observers with variable experience in the interpretation of pulmonary CT angiograms.

Materials and methods: Helical CT angiograms of 60 patients clinically suspected of having pulmonary embolism were analyzed retrospectively and independently by two chest radiologists, one cardiovascular radiologist, and three general radiologists. The films were rated a second time by the chest radiologists to assess intraobserver variability. Findings for pulmonary embolism were categorized as positive, negative, or indeterminate at the main, lobar, and segmental pulmonary artery levels.

Results: The observers interpreted 19-21 CT angiograms as positive for pulmonary embolism (mean, 19.7) and one to six as indeterminate (mean, 3.2). Agreement occurred among all observers in 50 patients (83.3%), among five observers in six patients (10.0%), among four observers in three patients (5.0%), and among three observers in one patient (1.7%). Interobserver agreement was very good (kappa, .85) for the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism on a per-patient basis. Agreement on a per-artery basis for all arteries was moderate (66%; kappa, .56); for lobar arteries was good (83%; kappa, .75); and for segmental arteries was moderate (57%; kappa, .47). Mean intraobserver agreement on a per-patient basis was very good (93%; kappa, .87).

Conclusion: Inter- and intraobserver agreement in the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism with helical CT is very good despite a wide variety of experience among radiologists.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Contrast Media*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Observer Variation
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnostic imaging*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*


  • Contrast Media