OBJECTIVE:

Children with minor blunt head trauma often are observed in the emergency department before a decision is made regarding computed tomography use. We studied the impact of this clinical strategy on computed tomography use and outcomes.

METHODS:

We performed a subanalysis of a prospective multicenter observational study of children with minor blunt head trauma. Clinicians completed case report forms indicating whether the child was observed before making a decision regarding computed tomography. We defined clinically important traumatic brain injury as an intracranial injury resulting in death, neurosurgical intervention, intubation for longer than 24 hours, or hospital admission for 2 nights or longer. To compare computed tomography rates between children observed and those not observed before a decision was made regarding computed tomography use, we used a generalized estimating equation model to control for hospital clustering and patient characteristics.

RESULTS:

Of 42 412 children enrolled in the study, clinicians noted if the patient was observed before making a decision on computed tomography in 40 113 (95%). Of these, 5433 (14%) children were observed. The computed tomography use rate was lower in those observed than in those not observed (31.1% vs 35.0%; difference: −3.9% [95% confidence interval: −5.3 to −2.6]), but the rate of clinically important traumatic brain injury was similar (0.75% vs 0.87%; difference: −0.1% [95% confidence interval: −0.4 to 0.1]). After adjustment for hospital and patient characteristics, the difference in the computed tomography use rate remained significant (adjusted odds ratio for obtaining a computed tomography in the observed group: 0.53 [95% confidence interval: 0.43–0.66]).

CONCLUSIONS:

Clinical observation was associated with reduced computed tomography use among children with minor blunt head trauma and may be an effective strategy to reduce computed tomography use.

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