Objective: This study proposes to evaluate the efficacy of routine posttracheostomy chest radiography.
Design: A retrospective chart review provided the framework of this study.
Setting: The study took place at a university teaching hospital-level one trauma center.
Patients: The study included 293 patients undergoing elective tracheostomy between 1989 and 1993.
Measurements and results: Data extracted from the charts included indication for tracheostomy, immediate preoperative and postoperative chest radiograph reports, management changes made secondarily to radiographic findings, including chest tube placement, institution of chest physiotherapy, and need for tracheal tube reposition. Complications were defined as findings not noted on the preoperative radiographs; these were pneumothorax, tube malposition, atelectasis, or clinical information resulting in management changes. All patients received postoperative chest radiographs in the trauma ICU. Statistical analysis of our data was carried out using the χ2 test. Patients with chest tubes in place at the time of surgery were the only group who were excluded so as not to confuse whether pneumothorax developed postoperatively. Of the initial 293 patients, 25 patients were excluded on the basis of having a chest tube. The remaining 268 charts were analyzed; 220 (82%) patients underwent tracheostomy for ventilator-dependent respiratory failure, 31 (12%) due to multiple facial fractures, 6 (2.1%) secondary to penetrating neck wounds, and 11 (4%) as a result of refractory vocal cord edema. One (0.3%) patient was found to have a postoperative 10% apical pneumothorax. Eight (2.4%) patients were found to have postoperative subsegmental atelectasis. There were no significant (p>0.05) management changes implemented as a result of these findings. No new infiltrates, effusions, or malpositioned tubes were noted. Deletion of routine posttracheostomy radiographs would save $52.39 per patient (cost) or $15,350 for 293 patients and $35,453 in total patient charges.
Conclusions: Abnormalities revealed by routine chest radiography after tracheostomy did not appear to alter patient management frequently enough to warrant the costs. A randomized, prospective study should be performed to analyze the safety of abandoning this practice.