Acute appendicitis traditionally has been a clinical diagnosis and remains so to this day. The diagnosis can be difficult to make in many children who may present with typical symptoms or an equivocal physical examination .
In our current study, we evaluated the newly advocated modified clinical practice grading score (MCPGS); based on clinical judgment, laboratory investigations for inflammatory response and THI- US examination studies in association with the strategy of active watchful waiting performing repeated clinical examinations as well as at least one time repetition of THI before the decision-making process. It was highly accurate in the diagnosis of acute appendicitis in children. The specificity of the MCPGS was 90.69% compared to a specificity of 70.47% in the children to whom CPGS and active watchful waiting strategy was applied. In addition, we observed a statistically significant decrease in the negative appendectomy rate in MCPGS compared with those in CPGS.
Our study aimed at avoiding the selection bias mentioned before in similar scoring system . Age and sex analysis shows that cases with and without appendectomy are similar and there is no aggregation of cases in a certain age group or in a certain sex. Therefore, the MCPGS can be used at any age and for any sex. Moreover, even those patients who were referred by pediatricians expected to be appendicitis were included as well as self referral that can be appendicitis or not. This illustrates that even if the cases are referred by pediatricians the score can still be used to differentiate cases.
The decrease in negative appendectomies occurred without a rise in the perforation rate. In fact, the perforation rate was lower under the MCPGS, although this change was not significant. Screening ultrasound scanning for pediatric appendicitis has suboptimal accuracy, particularly in obese children with a low likelihood of appendicitis who should not routinely undergo ultrasound scanning. However, when followed by a second ultrasound scanning or a clinical reassessment, it offers high diagnostic accuracy in lean children .
Targeted abdominal examination as well as THI constituted around 75% of our MCPGS scoring system with the aim of increasing its specificity without affecting the system sensitivity.
In our previously published data ; traditional clinical judgment and grey scale US score aided CPGS was performed, 200 patients (75.5%) underwent appendectomy, of them 35 appendices (17.5%) were normal at histopathological evaluation. The remaining 65 patients (24.5%) were discharged from the Pediatric Surgical Facility as not having appendicitis. Yet, out of those 65; 3 children (4.6%), (2 males and 1 female) were re-admitted. US was repeated suggesting acute appendicitis. They underwent appendectomy with positive pathological results. A total of 203 appendectomies (76.6%) were performed in this CPGS group.
Moreover, our current results showed the superiority of THI over conventional US for lesion visibility, with THI being preferred over conventional US for 65% of cases. The findings were clearer and better defined with THI which thereby improved the detection of subtle lesions. Tissue harmonic imaging theoretically improved signal-to-noise ratios by reducing noise from side lobe artifact in the near field and echo detection from multiple scattering events.
This reduced noise was most likely responsible for the superiority of THI over conventional US in the visualization of the findings and improved the confidence of diagnosis for most cases. THI was superior to conventional US in the visualization of lesions containing highly reflective tissues such as fat, calcium and air. It is therefore recommended to be used in obese patients. Better definition of the posterior acoustic shadows in calcifications and appendicolith(s) [21–28].
In our previous study the negative appendectomy rate was 17.5% compared to 4.3% in the current work. Contrary to our previous results  some published data expressed a negative appendectomy rate of 5.5% by applying somewhat similar scoring system . The reason for such difference may be their use of computerized tomography scanning (CT) in their system. However, the difference in the negative appendectomy rate does not support the use of such an expensive sophisticated and hazardous radiological tool to children. CT scanning is not always available in all centers limiting its incorporation in clinical practice guideline scoring system. A recently published study of a practice guideline found that CT scan did not improve the accuracy of diagnosis in patients with suspected appendicitis . Their guideline did not specifically address the appropriate use of CT scan.
Our MCPGS results, however, did show a great decline in the rate of negative appendectomies. This goes with data of some authors who showed that an imaging protocol using US followed by CT in their patients with equivocal presentations improved the accuracy of diagnosis of appendicitis .
We presented our results of MCPGS which evolved from this and other studies recommending ultrasound as the imaging modality of choice in most patients. In addition the recommendation of MCPGS was not limited to imaging alone. Most clinical practice scoring guidelines encourage, but do not require complaints with recommendations . Measuring complaints can be challenging because scoring guidelines can include numerous recommendations and because patients, especially children do not always match preconceived scenarios . Although many barriers limit physician acceptance of scoring guidelines , the compliance with our MCPGS is consistent with other developed practice scoring guidelines [2, 3, 6–9, 34]. A considerable portion of the improvement seen in our study could be because of the utilization and accuracy of suitable imaging.
Practice scoring guidelines and clinical pathways have been implemented for many conditions , including acute appendicitis [16, 30, 35]. Analysis of such guidelines can focus on any combination of patient outcome, resource utilization or complaints with recommendation [16, 34–38].
Although most appendicitis scoring guideline and pathways focus on decreasing postoperative treatment cost, a few concentrate diagnosis itself. One such pathway in a pediatric hospital achieved a significant reduction in the number of laboratory tests and X-rays without adversely affecting the incidence of negative appendectomies or perforation .
In our proposed MCPGS we included the minimum necessary laboratory investigations to measure the inflammatory response and time and effort saving tissue harmonic abdominal ultrasound scan in order to decrease the probabilities of misdiagnosing acute abdominal pain due to other reasons as acute appendicitis.
In our previous and current studies; all patients underwent the active watchful waiting strategy. This excludes that the decision-making process did result strictly from the MCPGS, and was not rather based on the repeated clinical re-evaluation that was adopted also on CPGS. This exactly shows that our proposed score is superior to the real life common clinical practice.
It may be concluded that the use of a modified clinical and THI ultrasonographic grading score (MCPGS) with the rationale of active watchful waiting in suspected appendicitis with at least one time repetition of THI-US was a prudent and safe strategy. It may improve the accuracy of diagnosing acute appendicitis in the pediatric population as it is superior to the real life common clinical practice.
It leads to fewer negative appendectomies compared with those children to whom it was not applied or other scoring systems were applied as the CPGS with the same strategy of active watchful waiting and repeated US, without a significant change in the perforation rate. Moreover, inpatient observation for serial examinations was reduced significantly. Our clinical practice grading scores can have considerable impact on the diagnosis of acute appendicitis in children. A larger cohort is necessary to validate our findings.