Importance: The optimal level of care for older patients with rib fractures as an isolated injury is unknown.
Objectives: To characterize interhospital variability in intensive care unit (ICU) vs non-ICU admission of older patients with isolated rib fractures and to evaluate whether greater hospital-level use of ICU admission is associated with improved outcomes.
Design, setting, and participants: This cohort study included trauma patients aged 65 years and older with isolated rib fractures who were admitted to US trauma centers participating in the National Trauma Data Bank between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2016. Patients were excluded if they had other significant injuries, were intubated or had assisted respirations in the emergency department (ED), or had a Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score of less than 9 in the ED. Hospitals with fewer than 10 eligible patients were excluded. Data analysis was conducted from May 2019 through September 2020.
Exposures: Admission to the ICU.
Main outcomes and measures: Composite of unplanned intubation, pneumonia, or death during hospitalization.
Results: Among 23 951 patients (11 066 [46.2%] women; mean [SD] age, 77.0 [7.2] years) at 573 hospitals, the median (interquartile range) proportion of ICU use was 16.7% (7.4%-32.0%), but this varied from a low of 0% to a high of 91.9%. The composite outcome occurred in 787 patients (3.3%), with unplanned intubation in 317 (1.3%), pneumonia in 180 (0.8%), and death in 451 (1.9%). Accounting for the hierarchical nature of the data and adjusting for propensity scores reflecting factors associated with ICU admission, receiving care at a hospital with the greatest ICU use (quartile 4), compared with a hospital with the lowest ICU use, was associated with decreased likelihood of the composite outcome (adjusted odds ratio, 0.71; 95% CI, 0.55-0.92).
Conclusions and relevance: In this study, admission location of older patients with isolated rib fractures was variable across hospitals, but hospitalization at a center with greater ICU use was associated with improved outcomes. It may be warranted for hospitals with low ICU use to admit more such patients to an ICU.