Delay in clearing cervical spine injuries in obtunded trauma patients and its implications

Kamaljit K. Parmar, Kwok M. Ho, Timothy Bowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Introduction: Prompt recognition of cervical spine injuries may limit spinal cord damage. This prospective audit assessed the time needed to formally confirm the status of cervical spine using a computed tomography scan, the reasons for any delays, and the subsequent outcomes. Methodology: Prospective audit analysed the data of 100 consecutive unconscious trauma patients, admitted over a seven-month period, to ascertain whether there was a ‘weekend’ effect in validating the cervical spine status radiologically, and whether the delays were associated with an increased risk of pneumonia and other complications. The sensitivity and specificity of using bony fractures and mal-alignment on the computed tomography scans to diagnose cervical spine injuries were calculated. Results: Significant radiological evidence of cervical spine injuries occurred in 37 patients (37%). A delay in >48 h to ascertain the cervical spine status occurred in 36 patients, mostly due to logistical (58%) reasons, and this was associated with an increased risk of pneumonia requiring antibiotics (p < 0.001). A ‘weekend’ effect and presence of cervical spine injuries were not significantly related to the time to confirm the cervical spine injury status radiologically. The specificity (98%) of using bony fractures and mal-alignment on the computed tomography to diagnose cervical spine injuries was high, but its sensitivity (83.8%) was only modest. Conclusions: A delay to confirm the cervical spine injury status was common and associated with an increased risk of pneumonia in unconscious trauma patients, particularly among those who did not sustain any cervical spine injuries. The low sensitivity of computed tomography to exclude non-bony cervical spine injuries suggests that selective early use of magnetic resonance imaging scans for high-risk unconscious trauma patients may improve patient outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-280
Number of pages8
JournalTrauma (United Kingdom)
Volume20
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018

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