Aim: To assess the impact of the introduction of a computed tomography (CT) imaging protocol for multi-trauma patients on the workload, overall diagnostic yield, and effect on detection of cervical spine injury and pneumothorax.
Method: Between February 1997 and April 2004, all patients presenting acutely to the Emergency Department (ED) with haemodynamically stable trauma (Abbreviated Injury Scale 3 or more) involving more than two body systems were imaged with a comprehensive pre-set helical CT protocol (including non-contrast head, cervical spine: cranio-cervical and cervico-thoracic junctions; and oral and intravenous contrast-enhanced thoracic, abdomen and pelvis) after initial triage and a standard trauma series of radiographs (chest, lateral C-spine and pelvis). Diagnosis of cervical spine fracture and pneumothorax was noted before and after the CT protocol was carried out and findings from all studies were recorded prospectively.
Results: Over the 7-year period 296 multi-trauma CT studies were completed of which 41 (13.8%) were negative. Of the positive cases there were 127 (43%) head injuries; 25 cervical spine fractures (8%); 66 pelvic fractures (22%);48 thoracic or lumbar spine fractures (16%); 97 pneumothoraces (33%); 22 mediastinal injuries (7%) and 49 intra-abdominal injuries (17%) with 19 (6%) splenic tears/ruptures. Positive findings included many unsuspected injuries, including 19 cervical spine fractures which were not demonstrated on the standard lateral radiograph from the resuscitation room. Of the 97 CT detected pneumothoraces, 12 were bilateral, 52 already had a chest drain in situ and 36 were not detected on initial supine chest radiography in the resuscitation room. One undetected case had bilateral tension pneumothoraces that were promptly drained on the CT table. Only three patients did not complete their multi-trauma examination because of deterioration in clinical condition and these were all immediately returned to the resuscitation room.
Conclusion: Over the 7-year period in a large acute National Health Service (NHS) hospital trust currently averaging 85,000 ED attendances per year only 296 patients fulfilled the stated criteria for an immediate multi-trauma CT study. Although disruptive in the short-term, the overall impact on workload was small. A wide range of significant injuries were demonstrated rapidly, accurately and safely, including 19 cervical spine fractures and 26 pneumothoraces not detected on plain radiographs.