Pragmatic Strategy Empowering Paramedics to Assess Low-Risk Trauma Patients With the Canadian C-Spine Rule and Selectively Transport Them Without Immobilization: Protocol for a Stepped-Wedge Cluster Randomized Trial

JMIR Res Protoc. 2020 Jun 1;9(6):e16966. doi: 10.2196/16966.


Background: Each year, half a million patients with a potential neck (c-spine) injury are transported to Ontario emergency departments (EDs). Less than 1.0% (1/100) of these patients have a neck bone fracture. Even less (1/200, 0.5%) have a spinal cord injury or nerve damage. Currently, paramedics transport all trauma victims (with or without an injury) by ambulance using a backboard, cervical collar, and head immobilizers. Importantly, prolonged immobilization is often unnecessary; it causes patient discomfort and pain, decreases community access to paramedics, contributes to ED crowding, and is very costly. We therefore developed the Canadian C-Spine Rule (CCR) for alert and stable trauma patients. This decision rule helps ED physicians and triage nurses to safely and selectively remove immobilization, without x-rays and missed injury. We successfully taught Ottawa paramedics to use the CCR in the field in a single-center study.

Objective: This study aimed to improve patient care and health system efficiency and outcomes by allowing paramedics to assess eligible low-risk trauma patients with the CCR and selectively transport them without immobilization to the ED.

Methods: We propose a pragmatic stepped-wedge cluster randomized design with health economic evaluation, designed collaboratively with knowledge users. Our 36-month study will consist of a 12-month setup and training period (year 1), followed by the stepped-wedge trial (year 2) and a 12-month period for study completion, analyses, and knowledge translation. A total of 12 Ontario paramedic services of various sizes distributed across the province will be randomly allocated to one of three sequences. Paramedic services in each sequence will cross from the control condition (usual care) to the intervention condition (CCR implementation) at intervals of 3 months until all communities have crossed to the intervention. Data will be collected on all eligible patients in each paramedic service for a total duration of 12 months. A major strength of our design is that each community will have implemented the CCR by the end of the study.

Results: Interim results are expected in December 2019 and final results in 2020. If this multicenter trial is successful, we expect the Ontario Ministry of Health will recommend that paramedics evaluate all eligible patients with the CCR in the Province of Ontario.

Conclusions: We conservatively estimate that in Ontario, more than 60% of all eligible trauma patients (300,000 annually) could be transported safely and comfortably, without c-spine immobilization devices. This will significantly reduce patient pain and discomfort, paramedic intervention times, and ED length of stay, thereby improving access to paramedics and ED care. This could be achieved rapidly and with lower health care costs compared with current practices (possible cost saving of Can $36 [US $25] per immobilization or Can $10,656,000 [US $7,335,231] per year).

Trial registration: NCT02786966;

International registered report identifier (irrid): DERR1-10.2196/16966.

Keywords: Canadian C-Spine rule; cervical spine injury; immobilization; paramedic; trauma.

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