The Overuse of "Stat" in Imaging Centers

April 8, 2011

Once upon a time, when I worked primarily in hospitals, “stat” referred to emergencies, or at least something with real urgency (such as the patient is being cleared to have surgery tomorrow morning, etc.). After leaving the inpatient (and ER) world for outpatient imaging centers, I encountered some other uses of “stat.”

Stat: (from Latin: statim)- Without delay; immediately.

Once upon a time, when I worked primarily in hospitals, “stat” referred to emergencies, or at least something with real urgency (such as the patient is being cleared to have surgery tomorrow morning, etc.). After leaving the inpatient (and ER) world for outpatient imaging centers, I encountered some other uses of “stat:”

* The patient is a VIP (or directly related to one).

* The patient is about to go on a vacation (or other travel), and wants to know results before departing.

* The patient's referring clinician is being courted so she or he will send more referrals, and every patient sent by said referrer gets priority over patients from other referrers.

* The patient's insurance requires a quick turnaround time, so patients on that plan get priority over other patients.

The variety of non-emergent “stat”s seems to grow, year by year. I still see "real" stat studies (we sometimes call them “stat stats”) from time to time. We sometimes joke about having color-coded stat stickers for patients’ charts so we can prioritize them - red emergency stats would get read before the orange VIPs, who would get read before the pink VIP referrers, etc. It seems inevitable that, sooner or later, non-stat studies will become the minority.

I've always found it rather slimy that some patients get kicked to the back of the line, just because they were unfortunate enough to get referred by the wrong clinician. It reminds me of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm:” “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”