Are Routine Chest Radiographs After Chest Tube Removal in Thoracic Surgery Patients Necessary?

Monica Zukowski, Alec Haas, Eric W. Schaefer, Chan Shen, Michael F. Reed, Matthew D. Taylor, Pauline H. Go

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Introduction: The routine use of chest x-ray (CXR) to evaluate the pleural space after chest tube removal is a common practice driven primarily by surgeon preference and institutional protocol. The results of these postpull CXRs frequently lead to additional interventions that serve only to increase health care costs and resource utilization. We investigated the utility of these postpull CXRs in thoracic surgery patients and assessed their effectiveness in predicting the need for tube replacement. Methods: Single-institution retrospective study comprising thoracic surgery patients requiring postoperative chest tube drainage over a 3-y period. Demographics and surgical characteristics, including surgical approach, procedure, and procedure type, were recorded. Outcomes included postpull CXR findings, interventions resulting from radiographic abnormalities, and the additional health resource utilization incurred by obtaining these studies on asymptomatic patients. Results: The study included 433 patients. Postpull CXRs were performed in 87.1% of patients, with 33.2% demonstrating an abnormality compared with the prior study. Among these, 65.7% resulted only in repeat imaging and 25.7% resulted in discharge delay. Overall, a total of 13 patients (3%) required chest tube replacement, three during the index hospitalization and the other 10 requiring readmission. Among those requiring chest tube replacement, 75% had normal postpull imaging, and all were symptomatic. Conclusions: Recurrent pneumothorax after chest tube removal requiring immediate tube reinsertion is relatively rare and does not occur in the absence of symptoms. Our study suggests that routine postpull CXRs have limited clinical utility and can be safely omitted in asymptomatic patients with appropriate clinical observation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)160-167
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Aug 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery


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