Primary pan-computed tomography for blunt multiple trauma: can the whole be better than its parts?

Injury. 2009 Nov;40 Suppl 4:S36-46. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2009.10.035.


Single-pass, whole-body computed tomography (pan-CT) was proposed in the late 1990s as a new concept for the diagnostic work-up of severely injured patients. Since its introduction, it has led to considerable debate among clinicians and scientists, triggered by concerns about its immediate safety, questionable therapeutic advantages and exposure to radiation. However, it was recently shown that pan-CT scanning may be associated with a reduction in trauma mortality. In this article, we provide an overview of current knowledge of the value of this compelling concept. The diagnostic accuracy of multidetector row CT (MDCT) for clearing various anatomical regions in trauma patients is, at best, unclear. Little is known about the accuracy of pan-CT as a whole, which weakens statements about its effectiveness and prevents inferences about survival advantages. This last point may be explained by a stage-migration or "Will Rogers" phenomenon: Pan-CT increases injury severity by detecting lesions that would not have been recognized by conventional methods but still do not affect treatment decisions, thus artificially lowering the ratio of observed to expected deaths. In order to maintain the credibility of pan-CT technology for trauma, a rigorous, large-scale evaluation of its accuracy is required. Such an evaluation requires consensus about the definition of true and false positive and negative findings in the setting of blunt multiple trauma. In addition, triage criteria need to be refined to increase specificity and reduce the number of unnecessary scans.

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Diagnostic Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Trauma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Multiple Trauma / mortality*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / standards
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnostic imaging
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / mortality