Decision making in patients with acute abdominal pain at a university and at a rural hospital: Does the value of abdominal sonography differ?

Exadaktylos, AK; Sadowski-Cron, C; Mäder, P; Weissmann, M; Dinkel, HP; Negri, M; Zimmermann, H (2008). Decision making in patients with acute abdominal pain at a university and at a rural hospital: Does the value of abdominal sonography differ? World journal of emergency surgery, 3(1), p. 29. London: BioMed Central 10.1186/1749-7922-3-29

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Introduction and objectives Abdominal sonography is regarded as a quick and effective diagnostic tool for acute abdominal pain in emergency medicine. However, final diagnosis is usually based on a combination of various clinical examinations and radiography. The role of sonography in the decision making process at a hospital with advanced imaging capabilities versus a hospital with limited imaging capabilities but more experienced clinicians is unclear. The aim of this pilot study was to assess the relative importance of sonography and its influence on the clinical management of acute abdominal pain, at two Swiss hospitals, a university hospital (UH) and a rural hospital (RH). Methods 161 patients were prospectively examined clinically. Blood tests and sonography were performed in all patients. Patients younger than 18 years and patients with trauma were excluded. In both hospitals, the diagnosis before and after ultrasonography was registered in a protocol. Certainty of the diagnosis was expressed on a scale from 0% to 100%. The decision processes used to manage patients before and after they underwent sonography were compared. The diagnosis at discharge was compared to the diagnosis 2 – 6 weeks thereafter. Results Sensitivity, specificity and accuracy of sonography were high: 94%, 88% and 91%, respectively. At the UH, management after sonography changed in only 14% of cases, compared to 27% at the RH. Additional tests were more frequently added at the UH (30%) than at the RH (18%), but had no influence on the decision making process-whether to operate or not. At the UH, the diagnosis was missed in one (1%) patient, but in three (5%) patients at the RH. No significant difference was found between the two hospitals in frequency of management changes due to sonography or in the correctness of the diagnosis. Conclusion Knowing that sonography has high sensitivity, specificity and accuracy in the diagnosis of acute abdominal pain, one would assume it would be an important diagnostic tool, particularly at the RH, where tests/imaging studies are rare. However, our pilot study indicates that sonography provides important diagnostic information in only a minority of patients with acute abdominal pain. Sonography was more important at the rural hospital than at the university hospital. Further costly examinations are generally ordered for verification, but these additional tests change the final treatment plan in very few patients.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Department of Intensive Care, Emergency Medicine and Anaesthesiology (DINA) > University Emergency Center

UniBE Contributor:

Exadaktylos, Aristomenis Konstantinos and Zimmermann, Heinz




BioMed Central




Factscience Import

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 15:06

Last Modified:

08 Jun 2016 10:49

Publisher DOI:




URI: (FactScience: 123638)

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