Summary and background data: As a result of many factors, the availability of neurosurgeons (NS) to care for trauma patients (TP) is increasingly sparse. This has precipitated a crisis in access to neurosurgical support in many trauma systems, often placing undue burden on level I centers. This study examines the profile of head-injured (HI) trauma patients and their actual need for the specific expertise of a neurosurgeon.
Methods: The National Trauma Data Bank (NTDB) was queried for specific information relating to the volume, nature, timeliness, and outcome of HI TP. Study patients were identified by reported International Classification of Diseases, 9th Edition (ICD-9) codes denoting open (OHI) or closed head injury (CHI) in isolation or in combination with other injuries.
Results: Total number of NTDB patients studied was 731,823, of which 213,357 (29%) had a reported HI. CHI represented 22% of all TP and 74% of HI. OHI was reported in 8% of all TP and was 26% of HI. Craniotomy (crani) was performed in 3.6% of all HI (1% of all TP). This was in 2.8% of OHI and 2.6% of CHI. Mean Glasgow Coma Scale score (GCS) of crani patients was 9, and 13 for the noncrani group. Subdural hematoma occurred in 18% of HI (5% of TP), with 13% undergoing crani. Epidural hematoma occurred in 10% of HI (3% of all TP), with 17% undergoing crani. Median time to OR for all cranis was 195 minutes (195 for CHI; 183 for OHI). Of all cranis, 6.5% were performed within 1 hour of hospital admission. Intracranial pressure (ICP) monitoring was reportedly used in 0.7% of TP and 2.2% of HI.
Conclusions: Care of TP with HI rarely requires the explicit expertise and immediate presence of a neurosurgeon due to volume and nature of care. HI was diagnosed in <30% of TP reported to the NTDB. Over 95% required nonoperative management alone, with only 1% of all TP and 2%-4% of HI TP requiring crani and/or ICP monitoring. Immediate availability of NS is not essential if a properly trained and credentialed trauma surgeon or other health care provider can appropriately monitor patients for neurologic demise and effect early transfer to a center capable of, and committed to, operative and postoperative neurosurgical care. A subgroup of patients known to have a high propensity for the specific expertise of a neurosurgeon may be able to be identified for direct transport to these committed centers.