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Intensive Care Med. 2012 Aug;38(8):1345-51. doi: 10.1007/s00134-012-2595-z. Epub 2012 May 15.

Ordering CT pulmonary angiography to exclude pulmonary embolism: defense versus evidence in the emergency room.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Inselspital, University Hospital Bern, Freiburgstrasse, 3010 Bern, Switzerland.



To identify reasons for ordering computed tomography pulmonary angiography (CTPA), to identify the frequency of reasons for CTPA reflecting defensive behavior and evidence-based behavior, and to identify the impact of defensive medicine and of training about diagnosing pulmonary embolism (PE) on positive results of CTPA.


Physicians in the emergency department of a tertiary care hospital completed a questionnaire before CTPA after being trained about diagnosing PE and completing questionnaires.


Nine hundred patients received a CTPA during 3 years. For 328 CTPAs performed during the 1-year study period, 140 (43 %) questionnaires were completed. The most frequent reasons for ordering a CTPA were to confirm/rule out PE (93 %), elevated D-dimers (66 %), fear of missing PE (55 %), and Wells/simplified revised Geneva score (53 %). A positive answer for "fear of missing PE" was inversely associated with positive CTPA (OR 0.36, 95 % CI 0.14-0.92, p = 0.033), and "Wells/simplified revised Geneva score" was associated with positive CTPA (OR 3.28, 95 % CI 1.24-8.68, p = 0.017). The proportion of positive CTPA was higher if a questionnaire was completed, compared to the 2-year comparison period (26.4 vs. 14.5 %, OR 2.12, 95 % CI 1.36-3.29, p < 0.001). The proportion of positive CTPA was non-significantly higher during the study period than during the comparison period (19.2 vs. 14.5 %, OR 1.40, 95 % CI 0.98-2.0, p = 0.067).


Reasons for CTPA reflecting defensive behavior-such as "fear of missing PE"-were frequent, and were associated with a decreased odds of positive CTPA. Defensive behavior might be modifiable by training in using guidelines.

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