Routine Follow-Up Radiographs for Ankle Fractures Seldom Add Value to Clinical Decision-Making: A Retrospective, Observational Study

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Abstract

Currently, the routine use of radiographs for uncomplicated ankle fractures represents good clinical practice. However, radiographs are associated with waiting time, radiation exposure, and costs. Studies have suggested that radiographs seldom alter the treatment strategy if no clinical indication for the imaging study was present. The objective of the present study was to evaluate the effect of routine radiographs on the treatment strategy during the follow-up period of ankle fractures. All patients aged ≥18 years, who had visited 1 of the participating clinics with an eligible ankle fracture in 2012 and with complete follow-up data were included. The data were retrospectively analyzed. The sociodemographic and clinical characteristics and the number of, and indications for, the radiographs taken were collected from the medical records of the participating clinics. We assessed the changes in treatment strategy according to the radiographic findings. In 528 patients with an ankle fracture, 1174 radiographs were performed during the follow-up period. Of these radiographs, 936 (79.7%) were considered routine. Of the routine radiographs taken during the follow-up period, only 11 (1.2 %) resulted in changes to the treatment strategy. Although it is common practice to take radiographs routinely during the follow-up period for ankle fractures, the results from the present study suggest that routine radiographs seldom alter the treatment strategy. This limited clinical relevance should be weighed against the health care costs and radiation exposure associated with the use of routine radiographs. For a definitive recommendation, however, the results of our study should be confirmed by a prospective trial, which we are currently conducting.

Level of Clinical Evidence: 3

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