Key to Reducing Unnecessary AXRs: Individualized Metrics

Diagnosis of constipation is primarily based on history and physical exam –not abdominal xray (AXR). In a recent quality improvement study (G Moriel et al. J Pediatr 2020; 225: 109-116. Reducing Abdominal Radiographs to Diagnose Constipation in the Pediatric Emergency Department), ED physicians were trying to improve adherence to evidence-based guidelines for diagnosis of constipation in otherwise healthy children. In this article, the authors note evidence “has shown abdominal radiographs to be unreliable in establishing an association between clinical symptoms of constipation and fecal load on abdominal radiographs.”

As part of the study, the researchers provided two 20-minute presentations to the pediatric emergency department providers and sent emails to them and to resident housestaff. The email for ED provider’s included the provider’s baseline abdominal radiograph frequency. After study was initiated, a followup email was sent with similar information with key information on the project along with individualized data.

Key findings:

  • After the QI interventions, the total percentage of abdominal radiograph decreased to 18% (from 36% at baseline). This 18% decrease was significant ( P < .001) and sustained over a 12-month follow-up period.
  • The average length of stay was 1.07 hours longer for children who had an abdominal radiograph.
  • Clinically important return visits to the emergency department were uncommon during the postintervention phase (125/1830 [6.8%]), and not associated with whether or not an abdominal radiograph was performed at the initial visit.
  • While the study focused on healthy children, the authors noted that the overall population (6 mo-18 years) experienced a decline in AXR usage, regardless of exclusion criteria. At baseline the rate of AXR was 39.5% (1550/3926) which decreased to 20.7% (478/2311).

One interesting piece of data was showing that this intervention resulted in a sustained reduction for 12 months after the intervention observation period, which mitigates the potential influence of the Hawthorne effect.

My take: In my view, the keys to this intervention was providing individualized metrics as well as having leadership in establishing this project. The individualized metrics help physicians recognize when they are outliers and to motivate them to address this.

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