Investigations may not change your patient’s management plan for several reasons. In some cases, the patient’s pre-test probability for a condition is low, and further testing is not necessary (e.g., screening for breast cancer in younger women with low risk of breast cancer). Another example is unnecessary preoperative testing before a low-risk surgical procedure where the risk of complications is low. On the other hand, high-risk patients may warrant treatment irrespective of the test result; thus, testing in these patients would not influence the ultimate decision to treat (e.g., thrombophilia testing in patients with an unprovoked pulmonary embolism at high risk for recurrence is not helpful, since these patients should receive indefinite anticoagulation). Where possible, residents can refer to evidence-based clinical decision rules to guide appropriate testing or treatment – examples include the Well’s criteria or pulmonary embolism rule-out criteria (PERC) for pulmonary embolism, the Canadian CT Head Rule for CT scan of the head in a trauma patient, or the Centor criteria for likelihood of bacterial infection in adult patients with a sore throat.
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Friedman J, Rieder MJ, Walton JM, Canadian Paediatric Society. Bronchiolitis: Recommendations for diagnosis, monitoring and management of children one to 24 months of age. Paediatr Child Health. 2014; 19(9):485-91. PMID: 25414585.
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Kirkham KR, et al. Preoperative laboratory investigations: rates and variability prior to low-risk surgical procedures. Anesthesiology. 2016 Apr;124(4):804-14. PMID: 26825151.
Kirkham KR, et al. Preoperative testing before low-risk surgical procedures. CMAJ. 2015;187(11):E349-58. PMID: 26032314.
Ralston SL, Lieberthal AS, Meissner HC, Alverson BK, et al. Clinical Practice Guidelines: The Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of Bronchiolitis. Pediatrics. 2014; 134 (5):e1474-e1502. PMID: 25349312.
Rolfe A, et al. Reassurance after diagnostic testing with a low pretest probability of serious disease: Systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(6):407-16. PMID: 23440131.
Rusk MH. Avoiding unnecessary preoperative testing. Med Clin North Am. 2016 Sep;100(5):1003-8. PMID: 27542420.
Stevens SM, et al. Guidance for the evaluation and treatment of hereditary and acquired thrombophilia. J Thromb Thrombolysis. 2016 Jan;41(1):154-64. PMID: 26780744.
Stevens SM, et al. Thrombophilic evaluation in patients with acute pulmonary embolism. Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2017;38(1):107-20. PMID: 28208204.
Daily laboratory investigations can persist despite clinical stability for a variety of reasons (e.g., daily order without a stop date, not reassessing whether investigations are still needed). Observational studies suggest that resident physicians order routine daily CBC (complete blood count) and electrolyte panels more frequently than attending physicians. Daily phlebotomy contributes to patient discomfort and iatrogenic anemia. Studies support the safe reduction of repetitive laboratory investigations when patients are clinically stable without a negative impact on patient outcomes, including readmission rates, critical care utilization, adverse events, or mortality. Laboratory investigations should be ordered with a specific purpose which directly links to a specific management plan for patients.
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Ellenbogen MI, et al. Differences in routine laboratory ordering between a teaching service and a hospitalist service at a single academic medical center – a survey and retrospective data analysis. South Med J. 2017;110(1):25-30. PMID: 28052170.
Konger RL, et al. Reduction in unnecessary clinical laboratory testing through utilization management at a US Government Veterans Affairs Hospital. Am J Clin Pathol. 2016 Mar;145(3):355-64. PMID: 27124918.
Melendez-Rosado J, et al. Reducing unnecessary testing: an intervention to improve resident ordering practices. Postgrad Med J. 2017 Jan 19. pii: postgradmedj-2016-134513. PMID: 28104806.
Patients are often ordered intravenous (IV) medications when oral (PO) options are available, appropriate, and equally bioavailable. Common examples include antibiotics that are highly orally bioavailable (e.g., fluoroquinolones), oral potassium replacement (which is more effective than IV replacement), proton pump inhibitors (PPI) including in the setting of many cases of acute gastrointestinal bleeding, and oral vitamin B12 replacement (as opposed to intramuscular injections, including in the context of pernicious anemia). Peripheral catheters increase the risk of complications, including extravasation, infections, and thrombophlebitis. Furthermore, IV medication administration is often significantly costlier, decreases patient mobility, and increases length of hospital stay and pharmacist and nursing workload.
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Cyriac JM, et al. Switch over from intravenous to oral therapy: a concise overview. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2014 Apr;5(2):83-7. PMID: 24799810.
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Tsoi KK, et al. Meta-analysis: comparison of oral vs. intravenous proton pump inhibitors in patients with peptic ulcer bleeding. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2013 Oct;38(7):721-8. PMID: 23915096.
Wanh H, et al. Oral vitamin B12 versus intramuscular vitamin B12 for vitamin B12 deficiency. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Mar 15;3:CD004655. PMID: 29543316.
Discharges are commonly delayed for investigations that will not change acute management. Examples include biopsies, imaging to further investigate incidental findings, assessment by a specialist that is non-urgent, waiting for bloodwork results as part of a non-urgent diagnostic work-up, or echocardiography for patients with mild heart. Delayed discharges contribute to hospital over-crowding and negatively impact care efficiency. Crucially, longer lengths of stay is a risk factor for nosocomial infections, venous thromboembolism, pressures injuries, immobility, malnutrition, and deconditioning. Consider outpatient investigations when possible, if good follow-up can be assured.
Bhatia RS, et al. An education intervention reduces the rate of inappropriate echocardiograms on an inpatient medical service. JACC Cardiovasc Imaging. 2013 May;6(5):545-55. PMID: 23582360.
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Gundareddy VP, et al. Association between radiologic incidental findings and resource utilization in patients admitted with chest pain in an urban medical center. J Hosp Med. 2017 May;12(5):323-8. PMID: 28459900.
Laurencet ME, et al. Early discharge in low-risk patients hospitalized for acute coronary syndromes: feasibility, safety and reasons for prolonged length of stay. PLoS One. 2016 Aug 23;11(8):e0161493. PMID: 27551861.
McNicholas S, et al. Delayed acute hospital discharge and healthcare-associated infection: the forgotten risk factor. J Hosp Infect. 2011 Jun;78(2):157-8. PMID: 21497945.
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When considering diagnosis or screening investigations, consider all available tests. It is prudent to consider the least invasive option that will have similar sensitivity and specificity to guide clinical decision making to minimize the potential for harm to the patient. For example, when diagnosing acute appendicitis in children, ultrasound should be considered before computed tomography (CT) scanning. Not only is ultrasound radiation- and contrast-free, but it has been shown to be equivalent to CT scanning in the diagnosis and management of acute appendicitis across several clinically-relevant endpoints, including time to antibiotic delivery, time to appendectomy, negative appendectomy rate, perforation rate, or length of stay. Another example is conducting a non-invasive urea breath test rather than invasive endoscopy to prove H. pylori eradication. The sensitivity and specificity of the urea breath test are superior compared to other diagnostic tests and the risk of patient harm is minimal compared to endoscopy.
Aspelund G, et al. Ultrasonography/MRI versus CT for diagnosing appendicitis. Pediatrics. 2014 Apr;133(4):586-93. PMID: 24590746.
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Mitchell H, et al. Epidemiology, clinical impacts and current clinical management of Helicobacter pylori infection. 2016 Jun 6;204(10):376-80. PMID: 27256648.
Mostbeck G, et al. How to diagnose acute appendicitis: ultrasound first. Insights Imaging. 2016 Apr;7(2):255-63. PMID: 26883138.
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Shogilev DJ, et al. Diagnosing appendicitis: evidence-based review of the diagnostic approach in 2014. West J Emerg Med. 2014 Nov;15(7):859-71. PMID: 25493136.