ACEP Announces List of Tests As Part of Choosing Wisely Campaign

October 14, 2013

In Monday’s ACEP13 Opening Session, ACEP announced its list of five tests and procedures that may not be cost effective in some situations and should prompt discussion with patients in order to both educate them and gain their agreement regarding avoidance of such tests and procedures, when appropriate. These recommendations are part of ACEP’s participation in the "Choosing Wisely®" campaign.

The mission of “Choosing Wisely” — a multi-year effort of the ABIM Foundation — is to promote conversations among physicians and patients about using appropriate tests and treatments and avoiding care when harm may outweigh benefits. Since launching in April of 2012, more than 80 national, regional and state medical specialty societies and consumer groups have become “Choosing Wisely” partners. ACEP officially joined the campaign in February. 

“Overuse of medical tests is a serious problem, and health care reform is incomplete without medical liability reform,” said ACEP President Alex Rosenau, DO, FACEP. “Millions of dollars in defensive medicine are driving up the costs of health care for everyone. We will continue to encourage the ABIM Foundation and its many partners in this campaign to lend their influential voices to the need for medical liability reform.”

ACEP’s five recommendations were developed through a multi-step process that included research and input from an expert panel of emergency physicians and the ACEP Board of Directors. 

ACEP previously declined to participate in the campaign because of potential conflicts of this approach with the unique nature of emergency medicine as compared with office-based practices, and because of concerns that advocacy for medical liability reform is missing from the campaign.

The following are the five “Choosing Wisely” recommendations approved by ACEP’s Board of Directors:

Avoid computed tomography (CT) scans of the head in emergency department patients with minor head injury who are at low risk based on validated decision rules. 

Minor head injury is a common reason for visiting an emergency department. The majority of minor head injuries do not lead to injuries such as skull fractures or bleeding in the brain that need to be diagnosed by a CT scan. As CT scans expose patients to ionizing radiation, increasing patients’ lifetime risk of cancer, they should only be performed on patients at risk for significant injuries. Physicians can safely identify patients with minor head injury in whom it is safe to not perform an immediate head CT by performing a thorough history and physical examination following evidence-based guidelines. This approach has been proven safe and effective at reducing the use of CT scans in large clinical trials. In children, clinical observation in the emergency department is recommended for some patients with minor head injury prior to deciding whether to perform a CT scan. 

Avoid placing indwelling urinary catheters in the emergency department for either urine output monitoring in stable patients who can void, or for patient or staff convenience. 

Indwelling urinary catheters are placed in patients in the emergency department to assist when patients cannot urinate, to monitor urine output or for patient comfort. Catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI) is the most common hospital-acquired infection in the U.S., and can be prevented by reducing the use of indwelling urinary catheters. Emergency physicians and nurses should discuss the need for a urinary catheter with a patient and/or their caregivers, as sometimes such catheters can be avoided. Emergency physicians can reduce the use of indwelling urinary catheters by following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s evidence-based guidelines for the use of urinary catheters. Indications for a catheter may include: output monitoring for critically ill patients, relief of urinary obstruction, at the time of surgery and end-of-life care. When possible, alternatives to indwelling urinary catheters should be used.

Don’t delay engaging available palliative and hospice care services in the emergency department for patients likely to benefit.

Palliative care is medical care that provides comfort and relief of symptoms for patients who have chronic and/or incurable diseases. Hospice care is palliative care for those patients in the final few months of life. Emergency physicians should engage patients who present to the emergency department with chronic or terminal illnesses, and their families, in conversations about palliative care and hospice services. Early referral from the emergency department to hospice and palliative care services can benefit select patients resulting in both improved quality and quantity of life. 

Avoid antibiotics and wound cultures in emergency department patients with uncomplicated skin and soft tissue abscesses after successful incision and drainage and with adequate medical follow-up. 

Skin and soft tissue infections are a frequent reason for visiting an emergency department. Some infections, called abscesses, become walled off and form pus under the skin. Opening and draining an abscess is the appropriate treatment; antibiotics offer no benefit. Even in abscesses caused by Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), appropriately selected antibiotics offer no benefit if the abscess has been adequately drained and the patient has a well-functioning immune system. Additionally, culture of the drainage is not needed as the result will not routinely change treatment. 

Avoid instituting intravenous (IV) fluids before doing a trial of oral rehydration therapy in uncomplicated emergency department cases of mild to moderate dehydration in children. 

Many children who come to the emergency department with dehydration require fluid replacement. To avoid the pain and potential complications of an IV catheter, it is preferable to give these fluids by mouth. Giving a medication for nausea may allow patients with nausea and vomiting to accept fluid replenishment orally. This strategy can eliminate the need for an IV. It is best to give these medications early during the ED visit, rather than later, in order to allow time for them to work optimally. 

How This List Was Created

ACEP developed five Choosing Wisely® recommendations through a multi-step process that included input from ACEP members, an expert panel of emergency physicians and the ACEP Board of Directors. In 2012, ACEP appointed a task force to address cost effective emergency care. The Cost Effective Care Task Force conducted a survey that was open to all ACEP members asking for strategies to reduce cost and improve value in emergency medicine. The task force received over 200 individual suggestions, which were grouped into a set of strategies. A technical expert panel, including representatives from all aspects of emergency medicine practice, reviewed and prioritized the recommendations using a modified Delphi technique. The panel prioritized the strategies using multiple rounds of voting based on contribution to cost reduction, benefit to patients and actionability by emergency physicians. A literature review including data on cost was assembled for the highest-rated strategies. Strategies were further refined and a final list of strategies that received majority support of the panelists was created. Five of these were ultimately selected by the Board of Directors to be included in Choosing Wisely®.

ACEP's disclosure and conflict of interest policy can be found online.

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