Study objectives: To describe our 5-year experience with a clinical pathway used to ensure the timely communication and evaluation of unsuspected radiologic findings (URFs) noted on clinically requested chest imaging.
Design: Prospective data collection on clinical practice.
Setting: Academically affiliated Veterans Affairs medical center.
Participants: Pulmonary physicians, nurses, and radiologists.
Results: Over a period of 5 years, 1,629 URFs were referred to the pathway (from chest radiographs, 1,359 [83.4%]; from CT scans, 270 [16.6%]). Most URFs (78%) were nodules, with a specific diagnosis made in one third of URFs, and with a specific diagnosis thought to be clinically significant in another one third of URFs. The most common diagnosis was neoplasm, with over two thirds of these diagnoses being lung cancer. One third of lung cancers detected were either stage 1 or 2, with 1 in 17 of all URFs being stage IA lung cancer. The cost of the pathway was estimated at $28,600 per year.
Conclusions: URFs noted on chest imaging are frequently clinically significant, and a systematic approach to managing URFs, such as a clinical pathway, can significantly improve care in a large teaching hospital.