Physician knowledge of the Glasgow Coma Scale

J Neurotrauma. 2005 Nov;22(11):1327-34. doi: 10.1089/neu.2005.22.1327.


Appropriate triage is critical to optimizing outcome from battle related injuries. The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is the primary means by which combat casualties, who have suffered head injury, are triaged. For the GCS to be reliable in this critical role, it must be applied accurately. To determine the level of knowledge of the GCS among military physicians with exposure and/or training in the scale we administered a prospective, voluntary, and anonymous survey to physicians of all levels of training at military medical centers with significant patient referral base. The main outcome measures were correct identification of title and categories of the GCS along with appropriate scoring of each category. Overall performance on the survey was marginal. Many were able to identify what "GCS" stands for, but far fewer were able to identify the titles of the specific categories, let alone identify the specific scoring of each category. When evaluated based on medical specialties, those in surgical specialties outperformed those in the medical specialties. When comparing the different levels of training, residents and fellows performed better than attending staff or interns. Finally, those with Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) certification performed significantly better than those without the training. Physician knowledge of the GCS, as demonstrated in this study, is poor, even in a population of individuals with specific training in the use of the scale. It is concluded that, to optimize outcome from combat related head injury, methods for improving accurate quantitation of neurologic state need to be explored.

MeSH terms

  • Certification
  • Clinical Competence
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnosis*
  • Data Collection
  • Emergency Medical Services / standards*
  • Fellowships and Scholarships / standards
  • Glasgow Coma Scale*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / standards
  • Medical Staff / standards
  • Medicine / standards
  • Military Personnel*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Specialization
  • Triage / standards*
  • United States