Hypothesis: A pattern of prehospital care combining advanced life support, physician staffing, and helicopter transport improves the outcome of patients with severe brain injuries, compared with combined expanded basic life support, nurse staffing, and ground transport.
Design: Inception cohort from the data set of a population-based, prospective study on major trauma.
Setting: Prehospital and hospital trauma systems of an Italian region.
Patients: All patients with major trauma (Injury Severity Score, >or=16) and severe head injury (Abbreviated Injury Scale score for the head, >or=4) rescued alive from March 1, 1998, to February 28, 1999, who received either form of care. Patients with self-inflicted injuries were excluded. The 184 patients who met the entry criteria were divided equally between care groups.
Main outcome measures: Mortality at 30 days and Glasgow Outcome Scale score of survivors.
Results: After verifying the comparability of the cohorts, no survival or disability benefit could be demonstrated (95% confidence interval [CI] of the odds ratio for mortality [helicopter/ambulance] [95% CI 1], 0.72 to 2.67; 95% CI of the difference in Glasgow Outcome Scale score medians between helicopter and ambulance groups [95% CI 2], 0.0 to 0.0). Similar results were derived from analyses restricted to the subgroups identified by low (<or=90 mm Hg) roadside systolic blood pressure (95% CI 1, 0.58 to 7.17; 95% CI 2, -1 to 2) and by need for urgent neurosurgical intervention (95% CI 1, 0.16 to 2.60; 95% CI 2, 0 to 2). Exclusion from the ambulance group of victims rescued in urban areas did not change the results (95% CI 1, 0.80 to 3.24; 95% CI 2, 0.0 to 0.0). Stratification by age, Injury Severity Score, and Glasgow Coma Scale score demonstrated a small survival benefit (95% CI 1, 1.12 to 2.12) in the ambulance subgroup with Glasgow Coma Scale score from 10 to 12. Multiple logistic regression analysis confirmed that the group did not affect mortality.
Conclusion: This study was conceived to emphasize the supposed advantages of the combined helicopter, physician, and advanced life-support rescue. No increased benefit compared with the simpler rescue group could be demonstrated.