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Utility and costs of radiologist interpretation of perioperative imaging in patients with traumatic single-level thoracolumbar fractures.

J Neurosurg Spine; 27(5): 578-583, 2017 Nov.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-28885126
OBJECTIVE The cost of spine management is rising. As diagnostic imaging accounts for approximately 10% of total patient care spending, there is interest in determining if economies could be made with regard to the routine consultation of radiology for image interpretation. In the context of spine trauma, both the spine surgeon and the radiologist interpret perioperative imaging. Authors of the present study investigated the impact of radiologist interpretation of perioperative imaging from patients with traumatic single-level thoracolumbar fractures given that spine surgeons are expected to be comfortable interpreting pathologies of the musculoskeletal system. METHODS The authors conducted a retrospective review of all patients presenting with a single-level thoracolumbar fracture treated at the McGill University Health Centre in the period from January 2003 to December 2010. The time between image capture and radiologist interpretation as well as the number of extraskeletal and/or incidental findings was extracted from the radiology reports on all perioperative images including radiographic, fluoroscopic, and CT images. The cost of interpretation was obtained from the provincial health insurance entity of Quebec. RESULTS Eighty-two patients met the study inclusion criteria. Radiologists took a median of 1 day (IQR 0-5.5 days) to interpret preoperative radiographs. Intraoperative fluoroscopic images and postoperative radiographs were read by the radiologist a median of 19 days (IQR 4-56.75 days) and 34 days (IQR 1-137.5 days) after capture, respectively (p < 0.05). Preoperative radiologist dictations reported extraskeletal and/or incidental findings for 8.1% of radiographs; there were no intraoperative or postoperative extraskeletal findings beyond those previously reported on the preoperative radiographs. Radiologists took a median of 1 day (IQR 0-1 day) to read both preoperative and postoperative CT scans; extraskeletal and/or incidental findings were present in 46.2% of preoperative reports and 4.5% of postoperative reports. There were no intraoperative or postoperative radiological findings that provoked reoperation. A total of 66 intraoperative fluoroscopy images and 225 postoperative radiographs were read for a cost of $1399.20 and $1867.50 (Canadian dollars), respectively, for radiologist interpretation. This cost amounted to 40.3% of all perioperative image interpretation spending. CONCLUSIONS In the management of single-level thoracolumbar fractures, radiologists add information to the diagnostic picture when interpreting preoperative radiographs and perioperative CT scans; however, the interpretation of intraoperative fluoroscopic images and postoperative radiographs comes with significant delay, does not add additional information, and represents an area of potential cost and professional-resource reduction.