Selected Topics: Emergency Radiology| Volume 58, ISSUE 2, P269-274, February 2020

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Lumbosacral Spinal Imaging for Patients Presenting to the Emergency Department With Nontraumatic Low Back Pain



      Choosing Wisely Canada (CWC) guidelines recommend that in the absence of clinical indicators suggestive of serious underlying pathology, physicians should not order radiological imaging for patients presenting with nonspecific low back pain (LBP).


      Our aim was to determine how many patients presenting to the emergency department (ED) with nontraumatic LBP had spinal imaging before and after the release of the CWC guideline.


      We conducted a retrospective medical record review for patients aged 18–70 years presenting to an academic tertiary care ED with nontraumatic LBP from April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015 (pre-guideline) and April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018 (post-guideline).


      One-thousand and sixty (545 pre-guideline, 515 post-guideline) patients were included. Pre-guideline, 45 patients (8.3%) had spinal imaging compared to 39 (7.6%) post-guideline (Δ 0.7%; 95% confidence interval [CI] −2.6% to 4.0%). Of the 84 patients (7.9%) who had spinal imaging, 4 (8.9%) had pathologic findings pre-guideline compared to 11 patients (28.2%) post-guideline (Δ 19.3%; 95% CI 2.7% to 35.8%).


      CWC guidelines did not appear to alter the rate of imaging for patients presenting to the ED with nontraumatic LBP. Future clinical recommendations should consider active knowledge dissemination and education strategies to help facilitate guideline adoption.


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