Isolated skull fractures: trends in management in US pediatric emergency departments

Ann Emerg Med. 2013 Oct;62(4):327-31. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2013.02.027. Epub 2013 Apr 18.


Study objective: Previous studies have suggested that children with isolated skull fractures are at low risk of requiring neurosurgical intervention, suggesting that admission to the hospital may not be necessary in many instances. We seek to evaluate current practice for children presenting to the emergency department (ED) for isolated skull fractures in US children's hospitals.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective multicenter cross-sectional study of children younger 19 years with a diagnosis of isolated skull fracture who were evaluated in the ED from 2005 to 2011, using the Pediatric Health Information System database. The primary outcome measure was the rate of hospital admission. Secondary outcomes were any neurosurgical procedure during hospitalization, repeated neuroimaging, duration of hospitalization, and cost of care.

Results: We identified 3,915 patients with isolated skull fractures, of whom 60% were male patients; 78% were hospitalized. Of hospitalized children, 85% were discharged within 1 day and 95% were discharged within 2 days. During hospitalization, 47 patients received repeated computed tomography imaging and 1 child required a neurosurgical procedure. Hospital costs were more than triple for hospitalized patients compared with patients discharged from the ED ($2,064 versus $619).

Conclusion: Most children treated in EDs of US children's hospitals with isolated skull fractures are hospitalized. The rate of neurosurgical intervention is very low. A better understanding of current practice is necessary to assess whether these admissions are warranted or not.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skull Fractures / diagnostic imaging
  • Skull Fractures / economics
  • Skull Fractures / surgery
  • Skull Fractures / therapy*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / statistics & numerical data
  • United States