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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Radiograph Interpretation Discrepancies in a Community Hospital Emergency Department


Introduction: In many hospitals, off-hours emergency department (ED) radiographs are not read by a radiologist until the following morning and are instead interpreted by the emergency physician (EP) at the time of service. Studies have found conflicting results regarding the radiographic interpretation discrepancies between EPs and trained radiologists. The aim of this study was to identify the number of radiologic interpretation discrepancies between EPs and radiologists in a community ED setting.

Methods: Using a pre-existing logbook of radiologic discrepancies as well as our institution’s picture archiving and communication system, all off-hours interpretation discrepancies between January 2012 and January 2015 were reviewed and recorded in a de-identified fashion. We recorded the type of radiograph obtained for each patient. Discrepancy grades were recorded based on a pre-existing 1-4 scale defined in the institution’s protocol logbook as Grade 1 (no further action needed); Grade 2 (call to the patient or pharmacy); Grade 3 (return to ED for further treatment, e.g., fracture not splinted); Grade 4 (return to ED for serious risk, e.g., pneumothorax, bowel obstruction). We also recorded the total number of radiographs formally interpreted by EPs during the prescribed time-frame to determine overall agreement between EPs and radiologists.

Results: There were 1044 discrepancies out of 16,111 EP reads, indicating 93.5% agreement.  Patients averaged 48.4 ± 25.0 years of age and 53.3% were female; 25.1% were over-calls by EPs. The majority of discrepancies were minor with 75.8% Grade 1 and 22.3% Grade 2. Only 1.7% were Grade 3, which required return to the ED for further treatment. A small number of discrepancies, 0.2%, were Grade 4. Grade 4 discrepancies accounted for two of the 16,111 total reads, equivalent to 0.01%. A slight disagreement in finding between EP and radiologist accounted for 8.3% of discrepancies.

Conclusion:Results suggest that plain radiographic studies can be interpreted by EPs with a very low incidence of clinically significant discrepancies when compared to the radiologist interpretation. Due to rare though significant discrepancies, radiologist interpretation should be performed when available. Further studies are needed to determine the generalizability of this study to EDs with differing volume, patient population, acuity, and physician training.

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