Diagnostic Imaging Utilization in the Emergency Department: Recent Trends in Volume and Radiology Work Relative Value Units

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J Am Coll Radiol


PURPOSE: The aim of this study was to quantify and characterize the recent trend in emergency department (ED) imaging volumes and radiology work relative value units (wRVUs) at level I and level III trauma centers.

METHODS: Total annual diagnostic radiology imaging volumes and wRVUs were obtained from level I and level III trauma centers from January 2014 to December 2021. Imaging volumes were analyzed by modality type, examination code, and location. Total annual patient ED encounters (EDEs), annual weighted Emergency Severity Index, and patient admissions from the ED were obtained. Data were analyzed using annual imaging volume or wRVUs per EDE, and percentage change was calculated.

RESULTS: At the level I trauma center, imaging volumes per EDE increased for chest radiography (5.5%), CT (35.5%), and MRI (56.3%) and decreased for ultrasound (-5.9%) from 2014 to 2021. Imaging volumes per EDE increased for ultrasound (10.4%), CT (74.6%), and MRI (2.0%) and decreased for chest radiography (-4.4%) at the level III trauma center over the same 8-year period. Total wRVUs per EDE increased at both the level I (34.9%) and level III (76.6%) trauma centers over the study period.

CONCLUSIONS: ED imaging utilization increased over the 8-year study period at both level I and level III trauma centers, with an increase in total wRVUs per EDE. There was a disproportionate increased utilization of advanced imaging, such as CT, over time. ED utilization trends suggest that there will be a continued increase in demand for advanced imaging interpretation, including at lower acuity hospitals, so radiology departments should prepare for this increased work demand.

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ePub ahead of print