Computed tomography scans prior to transfer to a pediatric trauma center: Transfer time effects, neurosurgical interventions, and practice variability

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BACKGROUND Many nontrauma centers perform computed tomography (CT) on injured children prior to transfer to a pediatric trauma center (PTC), but the institutional variability and clinical impact of this practice is unclear. This study evaluated the association of pretransfer CT with transfer delays, the likelihood of emergent neurosurgical intervention among patients who underwent pretransfer head CT, and the effects of transfer distance on prevalence and regional variability of pretransfer CT. METHODS All injured children transferred from outlying nontrauma centers to a single freestanding PTC from 2009 to 2017 were included. Patients were categorized by undergoing pretransfer CT head alone, CT of multiple/other areas, or no CT. Transfer time (referring hospital arrival to PTC arrival) was compared between CT groups, using multivariable modeling to adjust for covariates. Neurosurgical interventions were compared between patients with normal and abnormal Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) scores. The prevalence of pretransfer CT among referring centers was compared, with stratification by transfer distance. RESULTS Of 2,947 transfer patients, 1,225 (42%) underwent pretransfer CT (29%, head CT alone; 13%, other/multiple CT). Transfer times were significantly longer for patients who underwent pretransfer head CT or multiple CT (287 or 298 minutes vs. 260 minutes, p < 0.0001) after adjustment for baseline characteristics, injury severity, and transfer distance. Among patients with normal pretransfer GCS who received a pretransfer head CT, the likelihood of urgent neurosurgical intervention was 1.3%. Prevalence rates of pretransfer CT by referring center varied from 15% to 94%; prevalence increased with increasing transfer distance but demonstrated wide variability among centers of similar distance. CONCLUSION Pretransfer CT, whether of the head alone or multiple areas, is associated with delays in transfer to definitive care. Among patients with pretransfer GCS 15, the risk of urgent neurosurgical intervention is very low. Wide variability in pretransfer CT use between referring centers suggests opportunity for development of standardized protocols. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE Economic/decision, level III.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)808-812
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019


  • Pediatric trauma
  • computed tomography
  • neurosurgery
  • practice variability
  • transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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