Background: The low incidence of stab wounds in Australasia has led to a more operative approach for the management of anterior abdominal stab wounds. A survey of Australasian surgeons interested in trauma was undertaken to analyse current practice.
Methods: Ninety-seven early management of severe trauma surgical instructors (known as ATLS in Australasia) were surveyed using a four-part, single-page questionnaire.
Results: Sixty-five instructors completed the survey. Thirty-nine instructors stated that they would admit patients with stab wounds even if the wound appeared superficial or 'skin only'. For 14 surgeons the decision to perform a laparotomy was dependent on fascial penetration and for 17 the decision depended upon peritoneal penetration. Six felt that all but the most superficial wounds should have a laparotomy. Laparoscopy, diagnostic peritoneal lavage and other investigations were also thought to be helpful. Thirteen surgeons felt that the presence of peritonism or tenderness were the most important determinants. There was no hospital protocol for 44 respondents and there was a wide variation in individual approach to this problem. However, all agreed that peritonism and haemodynamic instability were indications for immediate laparotomy.
Conclusions: There is still a low threshold for laparotomy in Australasia and this approach is not without risks. However, the alternative of using serial observation should be regarded as an active form of management and protocols must be established to ensure regular repeat examinations by experienced personnel. The low incidence of abdominal stab wounds in Australasia makes this approach difficult. A safe approach for the Australasian situation is described.