Do Surgeon Recommendations for Imaging Correspond with Imaging Appropriateness Guidelines?

From the 2022 HVPA National Conference

Shyam Ramachandran (Bachelor of Science and Arts, Texas A&M Health Science Center, College of Medicine), David Ring MD, PHD, Tom Crijns MD


Utilization of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography (CT) increases annually, raising concerns about overuse. Imaging appropriateness guidelines have the potential to standardize decisions regarding imaging based on best evidence, which might reduce unhelpful or misleading imaging.


We studied expert use of advanced imaging for musculoskeletal illness compared to published appropriateness recommendations.


First, 15 imaging guidelines with recommendations for advanced imaging of the upper extremity were collated. Next, members of the Science of Variation Group (SOVG) were invited to participate in a survey of 11 patient scenarios of common upper extremity illnesses and asked whether they would recommend MR or CT imaging. Guideline recommendations for imaging were compared to surgeon recommendations using Fisher exact tests. We used Fleiss kappa to measure the interobserver agreement among surgeons.


For the 11 scenarios, most imaging appropriateness guidelines suggested that MRI or CT is useful while most surgeons (n=108) felt it was not. There was no correlation between surgeons and guidelines recommendations for imaging (ρ= 0.28; P =0.40). There was slight agreement among surgeons regarding imaging recommendations (kappa: 0.17, 95% Confidence interval: 0.023 to 0.32).


The available imaging appropriateness guidelines appear to be too permissive and therefore seem to have limited clinical utility for upper extremity surgeons. 

Clinical Implications

The notable surgeon-to-surgeon variation (unreliability) in recommendations for advanced imaging in this and other studies suggests a role for strategies to ensure that patient decisions about imaging are consistent with their values (what matters most to them) and not unduly influenced by patient misconceptions about imaging or by surgeon beliefs and habits.

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