Friday, December 18, 2009

Physicians' Bedside Skills Sometimes Trump Advanced Medical Technology

Physicians' Exams Better than CT Scans in Predicting Which Brain Surgery Patients will Need to Return to the OR

MAYWOOD, IL. -- Sometimes, a simple bedside exam performed by a skilled physician is superior to a high-tech CT scan, a Loyola University Health System study has found.

Researchers found that physicians' bedside exams did a better job than CT scans in predicting which patients would need to return to the operating room to treat complications such as bleeding.

"The low cost, simple, but elegant neurological exam appears to be superior to a routine CT scan in determining return to the operating room," researchers report in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

Patients typically receive CT scans following open brain surgery to remove tumors, repair aneurysms, treat brain injuries, etc. But practices vary. Some surgeons order CT scans right after surgery. Others wait until the following morning.

There are downsides. CT scans cost hundreds of dollars and expose patients to radiation. Transporting patients to scanning machines "involves multiple personnel of varying skills and nursing staff who are taken away from their other unit responsibilities," researchers wrote. "These scans also often interfere with work flow efficiencies of the radiology department."

The lead author of the study is Dr. Ahmad Khaldi, chief resident in the Department of Neurological Surgery at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. The senior author is Dr. Thomas Origitano, chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery.

Researchers examined the records of 251 patients who received CT scans within 24 hours of surgery at Loyola. They included 133 patients who received routine scans within seven hours of surgery and 108 patients who received routine scans between 8 and 24 hours after surgery. None of the routine scans predicted which patients would need to return to the operating room.

Patients also received bedside neurological exams by physicians. In 10 cases, physicians detected serious problems, such as being slow to wake up, that warranted an urgent CT scan. Three of these urgent scans (30 percent) confirmed the patients' problems were serious enough to require a return to the operating room. By comparison, 0 percent of the 241 routine CT scans predicted whether patients would have to return to the emergency room.

A normal CT scan given right after surgery might give a doctor a false sense of security, which could lead to less frequent monitoring and neurological exams. Of the 14 patients in the study who took a serious turn for the worse, 13 had had CT scans within four hours of surgery that were normal or showed only minor problems.

"Scanning technology is really good," Origitano said. "But applying it without a physician's input is not necessarily helpful."

Other co-authors are Dr. Vikram Prabhu and Dr. Douglas Anderson. Anderson is a professor and Prabhu is an associate professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery, Stritch School of Medicine.

About Loyola University Health System

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is part of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. Loyola University Medical Center’s campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of Chicago’s Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. At the heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

Trinity Health is a national Catholic health system with an enduring legacy and a steadfast mission to be a transforming and healing presence within the communities we serve. Trinity is committed to being a people-centered health care system that enables better health, better care and lower costs. Trinity Health has 88 hospitals and hundreds of continuing care facilities, home care agencies and outpatient centers in 21 states and 119,000 employees.