Introduction and aims Patients with undifferentiated acute abdominal pain (AAP) frequently present to the Emergency Department (ED). The most common diagnosis is the nonspecific abdominal pain although missed occult surgical pathology in the haemodynamically stable patient with equivocal symptoms and signs is a potential source of morbidity. The objectives of this study were two-fold. Firstly, to ascertain the accuracy of ED clinicians in the diagnosis of AAP, and to delineate if there was a population of patients who would normally require admission to hospital that would be suitable to be managed on a Clinical Decision Unit (CDU) protocol. Secondly, to prospectively evaluate such a strategy by way of a pilot study.
Methods An initial retrospective cohort study of consecutive patients presenting to the ED with undifferentiated AAP were analysed. Data were extracted on admission, length of stay and the correlation between initial ED clinical diagnosis and final discharge diagnosis. Following this, a protocol was developed within our institution for the management of patients with stable AAP on a CDU pathway. This was then formally evaluated over a period of 25 months as part of a quality improvement exercise.
Results A total of 501 patients were analysed of whom 48% were admitted from the ED. The initial ED diagnosis was correct in 57% of patients, and 28% of admitted patients were discharged within 48 h with no specific intervention. During the period of the pilot study, 189 patients were entered on to the AAP CDU pathway, of which 85% were safely discharged directly from the CDU and 67% within 24 h. Of the 28 patients admitted only four required an operation. Use of the protocol in this population resulted in the initial ED assessment being correct in 69% of cases.
Conclusion The management of stable AAP within the ED environment on a well-defined CDU pathway is feasible and can facilitate safe, efficient and effective care with early discharge and an increase in the accuracy of the final diagnosis. European Journal of Emergency Medicine 19:323-328 (c) 2012 Wolters Kluwer Health vertical bar Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
- acute abdominal pain
- clinical decision unit
- clinical diagnosis
- observational medicine
- computer-aided diagnosis