Variation in the use of skull radiographs by emergency physicians in young children with minor head trauma

CJEM. 2014 Jul;16(4):281-7. doi: 10.2310/8000.2013.131081.


Background: Minor head trauma in young children is a major cause of emergency department visits. Conflicting guidelines exist regarding radiologic evaluation in such cases.

Objective: To determine the practice pattern among Canadian emergency physicians for ordering skull radiographs in young children suffering from minor head trauma. Physicians were also surveyed on their willingness to use a clinical decision rule in such cases.

Design/methods: A self-administered email questionnaire was sent to all members of the Pediatric Emergency Research Canada (PERC) group. It consisted of clinical vignettes followed by multiple-option answers on the management plan. The study was conducted using the principles of the Dillman Tailored Design method and included multiple emailings to maximize the response rate. The research protocol received Institutional Review Board approval.

Results: A total of 158 of 295 (54%) PERC members responded. Most participants were trained in pediatric emergency medicine and assessed more than 500 children per year. Imaging management for the vignettes was highly variable: 6 of the 11 case scenarios had a proportion of radiograph ordering between 20 and 80%. Ninety-five percent of respondents stated that they would apply a validated clinical decision rule for the detection of skull fracture in young children with minor head trauma. The minimum sensitivity deemed acceptable for such a rule was 98%.

Conclusion: Canadian emergency physicians have a wide variation in skull radiography ordering in young children with minor head trauma. This variation, along with the need expressed by physicians, suggests that further research to develop a clinical decision rule is warranted.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Child
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / statistics & numerical data*