Variation in the use of MRI for cervical spine clearance: An opportunity to simultaneously improve clinical care and decrease cost

Alia Albaghdadi, Ira L. Leeds, Katherine L. Florecki, Joseph K. Canner, Eric B. Schneider, Joseph V. Sakran, Elliott R. Haut

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background For years, controversy has existed about the ideal approach for cervical spine clearance in obtunded, blunt trauma patients. However, recent national guidelines suggest that MRI is not necessary for collar clearance in these patients. The purpose of this study was to identify the extent of national variation in the use of MRI and assess patient-specific and hospital-specific factors associated with the practice. Methods We performed a retrospective review of the National Trauma Data Bank from 2007 to 2012. We included blunt trauma patients aged ≥18 years, admitted to level 1 or 2 trauma centers (TCs), with a Glasgow Coma Scale <8, Abbreviated Injury Scale >3 for the head and mechanically ventilated for more than 72 hours. Multilevel modeling was used to identify patient-level and hospital-level factors associated with spine MRI use. Results 32 125 obtunded, blunt trauma patients treated at 395 unique TCs met our inclusion criteria. The mean proportion of patients who received MRI over the entire sample was 9.9%. The proportions of patients at each hospital who received a spine MRI ranged from 0.5% to 68.7%. Younger patients, with injuries from motor vehicle collisions and pedestrian injuries, were more likely to receive MRI. When controlling for other variables, Injury Severity Score (ISS) was not associated with MRI use. Hospitals in the Northeast, level 1 TCs and non-teaching hospitals were more likely to obtain MRIs in this patient population. Conclusion After controlling for patient-level characteristics, variation remained in MRI use based on geography, trauma center level and teaching status. This evidence suggests that current national guidelines limiting the use of MRI for cervical spine evaluation following blunt trauma are not being followed consistently. This may be due to physicians not being up to date with best practice care, unavailability of locally adopted protocols in institutions or lack of consensus among clinical providers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere000336
JournalTrauma Surgery and Acute Care Open
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019


  • blunt trauma
  • cervical spine
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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