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Doctors turning to radiation-free scans

Young patients may soon be able to skip the x-ray queue and instead opt for an ultrasound when presenting to a Sunshine Coast emergency department this year.

Fractures are one of the most common reasons a child will visit an emergency department on the Coast, but with the help of a Wishlist research grant worth almost $20,000, patients may receive a quicker path to treatment.

Pic: Emergency Specialists at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital, Dr Ruaraidh McRitchie and Dr Michelle Davison.

Emergency Specialists at Sunshine Coast University Hospital (SCUH) Paediatric Emergency Doctor Michelle Davison and Dr Ruaraidh McRitchie (pictured) will be studying the use of a specialised ultrasound to diagnose wrist fractures in those aged between five and 15, which will be the first trial to demonstrate an x-ray is not required for that type of fracture.

“We are investigating whether or not we can reduce the number of x-rays we do on children who present with injuries to their arms in particular,” Dr Davison said.

“Children who have an injury to their arm often have a different type of break to an adult patient. That’s because the bones are more bendy so they tend to bend rather than break – often called a buckle facture.

“We can often see a small bend in the bone on an ultrasound scan, rather than having to send them for an x-ray. This will speed up their treatment but it will also reduce radiation for kids.”  

The study will be undertaken at Sunshine Coast hospitals, Gympie Hospital, Gold Coast University Hospital, Ipswich Hospital and Queensland Children’s Hospital.

After one and four weeks, a research nurse then follows up with patients to ask about pain management and any complications.

“This is to make sure that in our process of avoiding that x-ray we haven’t in fact missed something that we should have picked up.”

Dr Ruaraidh McRitchie said medical staff in the SCUH Emergency Department currently treat between five and 10 buckle fractures a week.

“If this study shows that this is a safe and effective way of identifying children with buckle fractures then we will stop doing x-rays in those kids that we can just see a buckle fracture and manage them in that way,” Dr McRitchie said.

Wishlist and the Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service’s Study, Education, Research Trust fund (SERTF) funded $360,000 worth of medical research in 2019.