X-rays Overused in UCI; Ultrasound Safer and Just as Reliable

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A new study revealed that the use of ultrasound testing rather than x-rays or CT scans in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) significantly diminishes patient radiation exposure and lowers costs of care.

The study was presented at CHEST 2013, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP).

"We found that the use of ultrasound to diagnose patients greatly reduced radiation exposure for patients without negatively affecting their health. It was also cost-effective,” said Margarita Oks, MD, Long Island Jewish Hospital, North Shore-LIJ Health System.

Ultrasound, also known as sonography, is an imaging technique that utilizes high-frequency sound waves to generate images that lead to diagnosis and treatment of countless diseases and medical conditions. And while radiation is not utilized in ultrasound testing, it is used in x-rays and CT scans.

Oks and her co-workers examined medical charts covering 3 months of data comparing chest x-rays, CT scans, and ultrasound between two independent yet identical medical intensive care units staffed by the same medical house staff in one health-care system.

One unit applied bedside ultrasound as the standard of care for diagnosis; the second used traditional imaging, such as x-rays and CT scans, as its standard of care in diagnosis.

The researchers discovered that there were 5.21 x-rays done per patient stay in the ICU using x-rays and CT scans, while there were 1.10 x-rays per patient stay in the unit using ultrasound as the standard of care.

Total CT scans were 0.91 in the non-ultrasound ICU as opposed to 0.26 per patient stay in the ultrasound unit. There were 0.27 cardiac echocardiograms in the non-ultrasound ICU as opposed to 0.11 in the ultrasound ICU per patient stay. Mortality rates did not significantly differ, with 0.27 in the non-ultrasound ICU as opposed to 0.20 in the ultrasound ICU. 


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