Objective: The aim was to analyze the impact of decreased head computed tomography (CT) imaging on detection of abnormalities and outcomes for children with isolated head trauma.
Methods: The study involves a multicenter retrospective cohort of patients younger than 19 years presenting for isolated head trauma to emergency departments in the Pediatric Health Information System database from 2003 to 2015. Patients directly admitted or transferred to another facility and those with a discharge diagnosis code for child maltreatment were excluded. Outcomes were ascertained from administrative and billing data. Trends were tested using mixed effects logistic regression, accounting for clustering within hospitals and adjusted for age, sex, insurance type, race, presence of a complex chronic condition, and hospital-level case mix index.
Results: Between 2003 and 2015, 306,041 children presented for isolated head trauma. The proportion of children receiving head CT imaging was increasing until 2008, peaking at just under 40%, before declining to 25% by 2015. During the recent period of decreased head CT imaging, the detection of skull fractures (odds ratio [OR]/year, 0.96; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.95-0.97) and intracranial bleeds (OR/year, 0.96; 95% CI, 0.94-0.97), hospitalization (OR/year, 0.96; 95% CI, 0.95-0.96), neurosurgery (OR/year, 0.91; 95% CI, 0.87-0.95), and revisit (OR/year, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.96-1.00) also decreased, without significant changes in mortality (OR/year, 0.93; 95% CI, 0.84-1.04) or persistent neurologic impairment (OR/year, 1.03; 95% CI, 0.92-1.15).
Conclusions: The recent decline in CT scanning in children with isolated head trauma was associated with a reduction in detection of intracranial abnormalities, and a concomitant decrease in interventions, without measurable patient harm.