Virtual endoscopy is a relatively new imaging technology in otology, and therefore data on its efficacy in clinical situations are limited. We conducted a prospective study to evaluate the clinical relevance of radiologic diagnoses based on virtual endoscopy of the middle ear. Our patient population was made up of 30 adults who were scheduled to undergo surgery to correct conductive hearing loss of unknown etiology. Virtual endoscopy was performed on three-dimensional images that were constructed from images obtained with conventional two-dimensional computed tomography (CT). Findings on virtual endoscopy were then compared with the subsequent surgical findings. Virtual endoscopy suggested a middle ear pathology in 19 patients and a normal middle ear in 11 patients. Postoperatively, we found that the virtual diagnoses correlated moderately well with the surgical findings in the group of patients with predicted pathology; 13 of these 19 patients were found to have middle ear problems such as ossicular chain anomalies, otosclerosis, and cholesteatoma (positive predictive value: 68%). However, among the 11 patients whose middle ear structures were radiologically predicted to be normal, only 2 had negative middle ear findings on surgical exploration; of the remaining 9 patients, 8 had otosclerosis and 1 had malleus fixation (negative predictive value: 18%). Thus, the sensitivity and specificity of virtual endoscopy were 59 and 25%, respectively. Virtual endoscopy provides images from a surgeon's perspective, and so it has the potential to be useful in the preoperative evaluation of the middle ear cavity. With ongoing advancements in computer systems and imaging techniques, the cost, reliability, and efficacy of virtual endoscopy may improve. However, further clinical validation and cost-benefit analysis are required before we can determine if it has any additional advantages over conventional two-dimensional CT.
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