The aim of this study was to analyse the costs of different diagnostic approaches to patients with acute flank pain. Four different diagnostic approaches were considered: (a) spiral CT without contrast medium (CM); (b) plain film, ultrasonography (US) and intravenous urography (IVU)--the latter procedure is used in our department in cases still unsolved following the former investigations (28% in our experience); (c) plain film, US and spiral CT without CM (as an alternative to IVU in 28% of cases); and (d) IVU. The cost of each procedure in a university hospital was calculated, following analysis of the differential costs of each investigation (equipment, depreciation and maintenance costs, related materials and services, radiologists, radiographers, nurses) and their common costs (auxiliary personnel and indirect internal costs). Finally, we calculated the full cost of each procedure and applied it to the different diagnostic approaches. The full cost of each approach was: (a) spiral CT without CM = 74 Euro; (b) plain film, US and IVU (28%) = 66.89 Euro; (c) plain film, US and spiral CT without CM (28%) = 64.93 Euro; (d) IVU = 80.90 Euro. Intravenous urography alone or in unsolved cases is not to be considered because it provides higher costs and worse diagnostic results, whereas X-ray dose to patient is almost equal between IVU and spiral CT. Spiral CT integrated to plain film and US in unsolved cases could be preferred because of lower cost and dose to patient, though reaching a diagnostic conclusion may take longer than an immediate spiral CT.
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