Background: Low back pain is a common emergency department (ED) complaint that does not always necessitate imaging. Unnecessary imaging drives medical overuse with potential to harm patients. Quality improvement (QI) interventions have shown to be an effective solution. The purpose of this QI intervention was to increase the percentage of appropriately ordered radiographs for low back pain while reducing the absolute number.
Methods: A multi-component intervention led by a clinician champion including staff education, patient education, electronic medical record modification, audit and peer-feedback, and clinical decision support tools was implemented at an urban public hospital Emergency Department. In addition to the total number ordered, Choosing Wisely and American College of Radiology recommendations were used to assess appropriateness of all ED thoracic and lumbar conventional radiographs by chart review over eight months.
Results: The percent of appropriately ordered radiographs increased from 5.8% to 53.9% and the monthly number of radiographs ordered decreased from 86 to 47 over the eight-month initiative. There were no compensatory increases in thoracic or lumbar computed tomography (CT) scans during this time frame
Conclusion: A multi-component QI intervention led by a clinician champion is an effective way to reduce the overutilization of thoracic and lumbar radiographs in an urban public hospital emergency department.