American College of Emergency Physicians

View all recommendations from this society

October 14, 2013

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.


These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician.

How The List Was Created

1–5: The American College of Emergency Physicians (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®.

6–10: The entire ACEP membership (30,000+) was surveyed and given an opportunity to provide input on what in their view would be cost effective and improve the quality of patient care. A Delphi panel of emergency physicians was convened and the list was winnowed using the Delphi process to the top twelve. To be included in the top twelve, there must be research to demonstrate cost effectiveness and improvement of patient care if implemented with reason, caution and explanation to the patient. Also of importance was the consideration that the recommendations would be or are also in concert with some of the other specialties participating in the Choosing Wisely® campaign.

ACEP’s disclosure and conflict of interest policy can be found at www.acep.org.

Sources

Jagoda AS, Bazarian JJ, Bruns JJ, Jr, Cantrill SV, Gean AD, Howard PK, Ghajar J, Riggio S, Wright DW, Wears RL, Bakshy A, Burgess P, Wald MM, Whitson RR; American College of Emergency Physicians; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Clinical policy: neuroimaging and decision-making in adult mild traumatic brain injury in the acute setting. Ann Emerg Med.2008 Dec;52(6):714–48.

Stiell IG, Clement CM, Rowe BH, Schull MJ, Brison R, Cass D, Eisenhauer MA, McKnight RD, Bandiera G, Holroyd B, Lee JS, Dreyer J, Worthington JR, Reardon M, Greenberg G, Lesiuk H,MacPhail I, Wells GA. Comparison of the Canadian CT head rule and the New Orleans criteria in patients with minor head injury. JAMA. 2005 Sep 28;294(12):1511–8.

Haydel MJ, Preston CA, Mills TJ, Luber S, Blaudeau E, DeBlieux PM. Indications for computed tomography in patients with minor head injury. N Engl J Med. 2000 Jul 13;343(2):100–5.

Smits M, Dippel DWJ, de Haan GG, Dekker HM, Vos PE, Kool DR, Nederkoorn PJ, Hofman PA, Twijnstra A, Tanghe HL, Hunink MG. External validation of the Canadian CT head rule and theNew Orleans criteria for CT scanning in patients with minor head injury. JAMA. 2005 Sep 28;294(12):1519–25.