It's pretty clear that children shouldn't be receiving CT scans, whenever possible. Despite this, the rate of CT for the diagnosis of pediatric appendicitis continues to rise.
This is a retrospective review from the Medical University of South Carolina that describes their implementation of an imaging protocol designed to encourage ultrasound use. They report before-and-after statistics for their protocol – and, unsurprisingly, they're pro-ultrasound.
Their protocol is generally simple – if it's clinical appendicitis, consult surgery. If it's uncertain, do ultrasound first – if ultrasound equivocal, do CT. If the patient appears unwell, skip ultrasound and do CT to evaluate for perforation. Their institution started out with 82% of patients undergoing appendectomy having received CT, with this percentage dropping to 20% following implementation of the protocol. Their negative appendectomy rate was stable at 5% after implementation, as well. They also note the cost of a pediatric CT is $6500 compared with ultrasound at $1100.
The main disadvantage of their protocol was the low sensitivity exhibited by ultrasound – 61% – and the length of stay resulting from patients who required both ultrasound and CT – nearly 8 hours. Considering ultrasound sensitivity depends on the experience of the operator, efforts to implement this strategy might benefit from upgrading local ultrasound capabilities.
"Clinical Practice Guidelines for Pediatric Appendicitis Evaluation Can Decrease Computed Tomography Utilization While Maintaining Diagnostic Accuracy" www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23611916