New algorithm evaluates necessity of CT scans in poisoned patients in Western Sydney Local Health District

WSLHD Toxicology research team Dr. Elena Xu, A/Prof. Naren Gunja, Dr. Earl Butler, Dr. Richard McNulty

Research conducted by Dr. Richard McNulty, Associate Professor Naren Gunja and their team in Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) has led to the development of a ground-breaking algorithm which assists doctors in deciding if a CT scan is needed in poisoned patients.

The current procedure around the world is to CT scan everyone with sedative overdose and this has been shown by Richard’s research to be unnecessary and burdensome on the hospital system.

The types of sedative drug overdoses, for example, include benzodiazepines, neuroleptics, anti-depressants, Gamma-hydroxybutyrate and opioids. 

The algorithm, which was developed after screening over 200,000 patients, accurately predicts whether a CT scan is necessary, eliminating the need for unnecessary scans and reducing waiting times for patients.

Richard and Naren, clinical toxicologists and lead researchers of the study, expressed their excitement about the innovative nature of the algorithm, stating, “This is the first algorithm of its kind implemented anywhere in the world.

We have achieved an unprecedented level of accuracy in predicting the need for CT scans in poisoned patients.”

The cognitive decision-making tool assists doctors in determining whether a CT scan is required, ultimately saving time for emergency department (ED) clinicians and enabling them to provide prompt treatment to patients.

They emphasized the importance of the research findings in busy hospital settings, saying, “Patients will no longer have to wait for unnecessary imaging tests, and ED clinicians can focus their attention on treating patients quickly and efficiently.”

As part of their efforts to promote its adoption, Richard and his team in WSLHD in the Westmead Health Precinct are planning to educate doctors on how to effectively utilize the algorithm in their clinical decision-making processes.

It is important to note that the algorithm is designed for use by doctors and not directly by patients.

The significant contribution of Richard’s research was recognized with the presentation of the Best Paper award at the European Clinical Toxicology Congress, which took place in May 2023 in Spain.

This prestigious annual event brings together experts from the international toxicology community.

Richard expressed his pride in receiving the award, stating, “It has been over a decade since an Australian research team has won this honour.

“It is truly gratifying to see our work acknowledged at such a renowned international gathering.”