The use of computed tomography (CT) has helped revolutionize the process and accuracy of diagnosis of the trauma patient. We have noted a striking increase in the use of CT scanning early in the management of trauma patients at our trauma center and sought to assess our experience.
Methods: All trauma patients admitted to our trauma center from February 1991 to February 1992 who received any CT scan within the first 12 hours after arrival were enrolled in the study. A positive (+) CT scan was defined as a scan that demonstrated a significant finding consistent with the injury and a negative (-) CT scan was one in which there were either no abnormalities or only incidental findings unrelated to the injury. Each patient was followed daily by one of the authors (A.G.R.). Patient records were reviewed and treating surgeons were interviewed to determine whether the CT scan improved the process of therapy. Morbidity incident to the performance of the CT scans was assessed.
Results: 1609 trauma patients underwent 2047 CT scans (1.3 CT scans per patient). Sixteen percent (n = 260) had scans of more than one part of the body. Thirty-eight percent (n = 770) of scans were positive but 29% (n = 225) of these were not helpful to the patient care process. Overall, 29% of scans, either because they were positive or negative, assisted in the clinical care of the patient. Six percent (n = 45) of CT scans were falsely positive. Sixty-five percent of scans were true negatives. Two patients died in the CT suite, 6 died shortly after completion of the scan, and 12 required emergency trips to the operating room from the CT suite.
Conclusions: A large number of CT scans are being performed in our trauma patient population. Less than 30% contributed to patient management. Because of morbidity and cost, strict surgeon and radiologist oversight of CT for trauma is essential.