OBJECTIVES:

The objectives were (1) to determine trends in radiograph use in emergency department (ED) care of children with asthma, bronchiolitis, and croup; and (2) to examine the association of patient and hospital factors with variation in radiograph use.

METHODS:

A retrospective, cross-sectional study of National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey data between 1995 and 2009 on radiograph use at ED visits in children aged 2 to 18 years with asthma, aged 3 months to 1 year with bronchiolitis, and aged 3 months to 6 years with croup. Odds ratios (ORs) were calculated and adjusted for all factors studied.

RESULTS:

The use of radiographs for asthma increased significantly over time (OR: 1.06; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.03–1.09; P < .001 for trend) but were unchanged for bronchiolitis and croup. Pediatric-focused EDs had lower use for asthma (OR: 0.44; 95% CI: 0.29–0.68), bronchiolitis (OR: 0.37; 95% CI: 0.23–0.59), and croup (OR: 0.34; 95% CI: 0.17–0.68). Compared with the Northeast region, the Midwest and South had statistically higher use of radiographs for all 3 conditions. The Western region had higher use only for asthma (OR: 1.67; 95% CI: 1.07–2.60), and bronchiolitis (OR: 2.94; 95% CI: 1.48–5.87). No associations were seen for metropolitan statistical area or hospital ownership status.

CONCLUSIONS:

The ED use of radiographs for children with asthma increased significantly from 1995 to 2009. Reversing this trend could result in substantial cost savings and reduced radiation. Pediatric-focused EDs used significantly fewer radiographs for asthma, bronchiolitis, and croup. The translation of practices from pediatric-focused EDs to all EDs could improve performance.

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