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One of the many challenges facing emergency departments (EDs) across North America is timely access to emergency radiology services. Academic institutions, which are typically also regional referral centres, frequently require cross-sectional studies to be performed 24 hours a day with expedited final reports to accelerate patient care and ED flow.
The purpose of this study was to determine if the presence of an in-house radiologist, in addition to a radiology resident dedicated to the ED, had a significant impact on report turnaround time.
Preliminary and final report turnaround times, provided by the radiology resident and staff, respectively, for patients undergoing computed tomography or ultrasonography of their abdomen/pelvis in 2008 (before the implementation of emergency radiology in-house staff service) were compared to those performed during the same time frame in 2009 and 2010 (after staffing protocols were changed).
A total of 1,624 reports were reviewed. Overall, there was no statistically significant decrease in the preliminary report turnaround times between 2008 and 2009 (p = 0.1102), 2009 and 2010 (p = 0.6232), or 2008 and 2010 (p = 0.0890), although times consistently decreased from a median of 2.40 hours to 2.08 hours to 2.05 hours (2008 to 2009 to 2010). There was a statistically significant decrease in final report turnaround times between 2008 and 2009 (p < 0.0001), 2009 and 2010 (p < 0.0011), and 2008 and 2010 (p < 0.0001). Median final report times decreased from 5.00 hours to 3.08 hours to 2.75 hours in 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively. There was also a significant decrease in the time interval between preliminary and final reports between 2008 and 2009 (p < 0.0001) and 2008 and 2010 (p < 0.0001) but no significant change between 2009 and 2010 (p = 0.4144).
Our results indicate that the presence of a dedicated ED radiologist significantly reduces final report turnaround time and thus may positively impact the time to ED patient disposition. Patient care is improved when attending radiologists are immediately available to read complex films, both in terms of health care outcomes and regarding the need for repeat testing. Providing emergency physicians with accurate imaging findings as rapidly as possible facilitates effective and timely management and thus optimizes patient care.
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