Interpretation of Imaging Diagnostic Studies

Revised and approved by the ACEP Board of Directors September 1996; June 2006 titled, "Interpretation of Imaging Diagnostic Studies"; and February 2013
Reaffirmed and approved by the ACEP Board of Directors October 2000 
Originally approved by the ACEP Board of Directors titled, "Interpretation of Diagnostic Studies" March 1990


The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) believes that the quality of patient care is enhanced when emergency physicians interpret and record the results of the diagnostic studies they order at the time of service. While the interpretation of diagnostic studies by other specialists may be important to patient care, the treating emergency physician is in the best position to fully integrate in a timely and effective manner all relevant clinical and other available information to optimize the quality of patient care in the emergency department (ED). Therefore, ACEP endorses the following principles.


  • Interpretation of diagnostic studies ordered for the immediate evaluation and management of an ED patient should be done contemporaneously with the ED visit, and should not be delayed until after the patient has left the ED. The contemporaneous interpretation may be done by the emergency physician or by another specialist within the limits of the training, experience, and competence of that physician.


  • If the emergency physician believes that urgent consultation is needed for the interpretation of a diagnostic study, the consultant must be immediately available for discussion and/or consultation with the treating physician.


  • Whether the consultation is provided from a hospital staff physician or by an outside contracted consultant, this physician should be licensed in the state where the images are performed and should meet or exceed the credentialing requirements for physicians credentialed by the local health care facility, such as board certification/board eligibility.


  • All interpretations of the diagnostic studies, both final readings and preliminary interpretations, if performed, must be documented in writing, available contemporaneously with the patient's evaluation, and maintained within the patient's permanent medical record. If the final report does not agree with the preliminary report, it is the responsibility of the person performing the final interpretation to notify the treating physician (or designee) in a timely fashion.


  • The emergency physician providing contemporaneous interpretation of a diagnostic study is entitled to reimbursement for such interpretation even if the study is reviewed subsequently as part of the quality control process of the institution in which the physician practices.


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