Background: To evaluate the practices and outcomes associated with a statewide, emergency medical services (EMS) protocol for trauma patient spine assessment and selective patient immobilization.
Methods: An EMS spine assessment protocol was instituted on July 1, 2002 for all EMS providers in the state of Maine. Spine immobilization decisions were prospectively collected with EMS encounter data. Prehospital patient data were linked to a statewide hospital database that included all patients treated for spine fracture during the 12-month period following the spine assessment protocol implementation. Incidence of spine fractures among EMS-assessed trauma patients and the correlation between EMS spine immobilization decisions and the presence of spine fractures-stable and unstable-were the primary investigational outcomes.
Results: There were 207,545 EMS encounters during the study period, including 31,885 transports to an emergency department for acute trauma-related illness. For this cohort, there were 12,988 (41%) patients transported with EMS spine immobilization. Linkage of EMS and hospital data revealed 154 acute spine fracture patients; 20 (13.0%) transported without EMS-reported spine immobilization interventions. This nonimmobilized group included 19 stable spine fractures and one unstable thoracic spine injury. The protocol sensitivity for immobilization of any acute spine fracture was 87.0% (95% confidence interval [CI], 81.7-92.3) with a negative predictive value of 99.9% (95% CI, 99.8-100).
Conclusions: The use of this statewide EMS spine assessment protocol resulted in one nonimmobilized, unstable spine fracture patient in approximately 32,000 trauma encounters. Presence of the protocol affected a decision not to immobilize greater than half of all EMS-assessed trauma patients.