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Neurology. 2011 Dec 13;77(24):2123-7. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31823d7687. Epub 2011 Nov 30.

A practical approach to incidental findings in neuroimaging research.

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Mind Research Network, Albuquerque, NM, USA.



We describe the systematic approach to incidental findings (IFs) used at the Mind Research Network (MRN) where all MRI scans receive neuroradiologist interpretation and participants are provided results.


From 2004 to 2011, 8,545 MRI scans were acquired by 45 researchers. As mandated by MRN's external institutional review board, all structural sequences were evaluated by a clinical neuroradiologist who generated a report that included recommendations for referral if indicated. Investigators received a copy of their participants' reports, which were also mailed to participants unless they specifically declined. To better understand the impact of the radiology review process, a financial analysis was completed in addition to a follow-up phone survey to characterize participant perceptions regarding receiving their MRI scan results.


The radiologist identified IFs in 34% of the 4,447 participants. Of those with IFs (n = 1,518), the radiologist recommended urgent or immediate referral for 2.5% and routine referral for 17%. For 80.5%, no referral was recommended. Estimated annual cost for this approach including support for the neuroradiologist, medical director, and ancillary staff is approximately $60,000 or $24/scan. The results of the retrospective phone survey showed that 92% of participants appreciated receiving their MRI report, and the majority stated it increased their likelihood of volunteering for future studies.


Addressing IFs in a cost-effective and consistent manner is possible by adopting a policy that provides neuroradiology interpretation and offers participant assistance with clinical follow-up when necessary. Our experience suggests that an ethical, institution-wide approach to IFs can be implemented with minimal investigator burden.

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