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A test object (phantom) is an important tool to evaluate comparability and stability of CTscanners used in multicenter and longitudinal studies. However, there are many sources of error that can interfere with the test object-derived quantitative measurements. Here the authors investigated three major possible sources of operator error in the use of a test object employed to assess pulmonary density-related as well as airway-related metrics.

Two kinds of experiments were carried out to assess measurement variability caused by imperfect scanning status. The first one consisted of three experiments. A COPDGene test object was scanned using a dual source multidetector computed tomographic scanner (Siemens Somatom Flash) with the Subpopulations and Intermediate Outcome Measures in COPD Study (SPIROMICS) inspiration protocol (120 kV, 110 mAs, pitch = 1, slice thickness = 0.75 mm, slice spacing = 0.5 mm) to evaluate the effects of tilt angle, water bottle offset, and air bubble size. After analysis of these results, a guideline was reached in order to achieve more reliable results for this test object. Next the authors applied the above findings to 2272 test object scans collected over 4 years as part of the SPIROMICS study. The authors compared changes of the data consistency before and after excluding the scans that failed to pass the guideline.

This study established the following limits for the test object: tilt index ≤0.3, water bottle offset limits of [−6.6 mm, 7.4 mm], and no air bubble within the water bottle, where tilt index is a measure incorporating two tilt angles around - and -axis. With 95% confidence, the density measurement variation for all five interested materials in the test object (acrylic, water,lung, inside air, and outside air) resulting from all three error sources can be limited to ±0.9 HU (summed in quadrature), when all the requirements are satisfied. The authors applied these criteria to 2272 SPIROMICS scans and demonstrated a significant reduction in measurement variation associated with the test object.

Three operator errors were identified which significantly affected the usability of the acquired scan images of the test object used for monitoring scanner stability in a multicenter study. The authors’ results demonstrated that at the time of test object scan receipt at a radiology core laboratory, quality control procedures should include an assessment of tilt index, water bottle offset, and air bubble size within the water bottle. Application of this methodology to 2272 SPIROMICS scans indicated that their findings were not limited to the scanner make and model used for the initial test but was generalizable to both Siemens and GE scanners which comprise the scanner types used within the SPIROMICS study.


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