Rising Use of CT in Child Visits to the Emergency Department in the United States, 1995–2008

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1148/radiol.11101939

Our finding of a substantial increase in the use of CT in children who visit emergency departments in the United States underscores the need for special attention to this vulnerable population to ensure that imaging is appropriately ordered, performed, and interpreted.


To describe nationwide trends and factors associated with the use of computed tomography (CT) in children visiting emergency departments (EDs) in the United States between 1995 and 2008.

Materials and Methods

This study was exempt from institutional review board oversight. Data from the 1995–2008 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey were used to evaluate the number and percentage of visits associated with CT for patients younger than 18 years. A mean of 7375 visits were sampled each year. Data were subcategorized according to multiple patient and hospital characteristics. The Rao-Scott χ2 test was performed to determine whether CT use was similar across subpopulations.


From 1995 to 2008, the number of pediatric ED visits that included CT examination increased from 0.33 to 1.65 million, a fivefold increase, with a compound annual growth rate of 13.2%. The percentage of visits associated with CT increased from 1.2% to 5.9%, a 4.8-fold increase, with a compound annual growth rate of 12.8%. The number of visits associated with CT at pediatric-focused and non–pediatric-focused EDs increased from 14 895 and 3 16 133, respectively, in 1995 to 212 716 and 1 438 413, respectively, in 2008. By the end of the study period, top chief complaints among those undergoing CT included head injury, abdominal pain, and headache.


Use of CT in children who visit the ED has increased substantially and occurs primarily at non–pediatric-focused facilities. This underscores the need for special attention to this vulnerable population to ensure that imaging is appropriately ordered, performed, and interpreted.

© RSNA, 2011


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Article History

Received October 6, 2010; revision requested November 26; revision received January 26, 2011; final version accepted February 1.
Published online: June 2011
Published in print: June 2011