Background Many specialty societies have found that neuroimaging in headache is a low-value intervention for benign presentations. This study describes factors that influence Emergency Room (ER) physicians' adherence to Choosing Wisely (CW) recommendations for low-risk headache patients presenting to Calgary's Emergency Departments (EDs). Emergency medicine has yet to address imaging in headache as a CW topic; however, this study may inform that decision.
Methods Data were retrospectively collected for all patients presenting to Calgary EDs with headaches from April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2016. Patients were deemed low-risk by virtue of discharge home from the ED, age < 50, and no lumbar puncture (LP), trauma, neurology, or neurosurgery consult or red flags on history. The primary outcome was computed tomography (CT) ordering rates with an eye to medical doctor (MD) practice variation. Patient, physician, and environmental factors were analyzed to compare patients who did and did not receive a CT.
Results Two thousand seven hundred and thirty-four headache patients met the eligibility criteria. A total of 117 Calgary ER physicians were included, all of whom had seen 10 or more headache patients over the study period. Physician practice variation was vast, with a mean ordering rate of 38.0% and a range of 0% to 95% (M = 39.0%, IQR = 21.0%). CTs were ordered more often in males than females (39.9%; 34.1%; p = 0.002) and in patients presenting during the day and evening (38.1%; 39.0%) compared to the night (29.7%; p < 0.001). Patients were divided into quartiles by age, with the oldest group (41.6 - 50 years) receiving significantly more head CTs (45.1%) than the other quartiles (34.9%; 34.9%; 27.5%; p < 0.001). Longer triage-to-discharge times were associated with an increase in CT ordering rates (12% for < 2.95 hours; 35% for > 4 hour wait; p < 0.001). Lastly, patients who did not have a CT were more likely to revisit the ED within seven days compared to those who did (6.9% vs 4.0%; p = 0.003), but their seven-day admission rate was unaffected (0.6% in the group that got CTs and 0.3% in the group that did not get a CT). Time to assessment, the day of the week, physician gender, years of experience, and training program did not influence CT ordering practices.
Conclusion To our knowledge, this is the first study to assess how patient, physician, and environmental factors relate to the use of CT scans in low-risk headaches presenting to the ED. CW guidelines are not optimally adhered to, and the findings in this study findings may inspire new ideas for maximizing the judicious use of healthcare resources.
Authors: Meaghan J Mackenzie, Rashi Hiranandani, Dongmei Wang, Tak Fung, Eddy Lang
Meaghan J. Mackenzie - firstname.lastname@example.org
Preliminary data gathering/ baseline