, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 15-20

How useful are routine chest x-rays of preoperative patients at risk for postoperative chest disease?

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The authors studied the value of routine chest x-rays in the management of patients admitted for vascular surgery, a population likely to have comorbid chest disease. Patient records from 341 admissions were reviewed to determine the relationship between chest x-ray results and postoperative chest complications. Patients who had major abnormalities had a 40% postoperative complication rate, compared with 9% for those with normal x-rays; but only 13% of the complications occurred in patients with major abnormalities. Nine patients had x-ray findings that led to clinical action: three with potentially beneficial management changes (congestive heart failure in 2, fibrosis in 1) and six with potentially detrimental clinical action (false diagnosis of tuberculosis in 2, false diagnosis of nodules in 2, falsely normal chest x-ray in 2). None of 50 surgical cancellations occurred as a result of an abnormal x-ray. All the beneficial effects attributable to preoperative chest x-rays accrued to patients who had clinical evidence of chest disease. The authors conclude that routine chest x-rays were not helpful in improving patient outcomes. They recommend ordering preoperative chest x-rays based on clinical indications so that the likelihood of false positives and false negatives and their associated detrimental effects can be minimized.

Received from the General Medicine Unit, Department of Medicine, Strong Memorial Hospital and the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, New York. Dr. Tape is currently affiliated with the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Nebraska College of Medicine, Omaha, Nebraska.