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The prognostic value of an erect and supine abdominal X-ray was studied prospectively in 97 patients with an acute abdomen. Although 64 (66%) of the radiographs showed an abnormality, the surgical registrar altered his clinical diagnosis on only seven occasions and changed his management on four. A consultant radiologist was the most accurate at reporting the X-rays even without seeing the patient, whilst junior surgical and radiological staff were as accurate as each other. A surgical registrar, however, was more accurate than junior radiologists in making a diagnosis. The investigation was of immediate clinical value in only 4% of the patients, and its use could probably be limited without detriment to patients.