Sustaining the gains: Reducing unnecessary computed tomography scans in pediatric trauma patients
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BACKGROUND/PURPOSE: "Pan-scanning" pediatric blunt trauma patients leads to exposure to harmful radiation and increased healthcare costs without improving outcomes. We aimed to reduce computed tomography (CT) scans that are not indicated (NI) by imaging guidelines for injured children. METHODS: In July 2017, our Pediatric Trauma Center prospectively implemented validated imaging guidelines to direct CT imaging for trauma activations and consultations for children younger than 16 years old with blunt traumatic injuries. Patients with suspected physical abuse, CT imaging prior to arrival, penetrating mechanism, and instability precluding CT imaging were excluded. We compared CT scanning rates for pre-implementation (01/2016-06/2017) and post-implementation (07/2017-08/2021) time periods. Guideline compliance was evaluated by chart review and sustained through iterative process improvement cycles. RESULTS: During the pre-implementation era, 61 patients underwent 171 CT scans of which 87 (51%) scans were not indicated by guidelines. Post-implementation, 363 patients had 531 scans and only 134 (25%) CTs were not indicated. Total CTs performed declined after initiation of guidelines (2.80 vs 1.46 scans/patient, p<0.0001). Total NI CTs declined (1.41 vs 0.37 NI scans/patient, p<0.0001) reflected in significant reductions in all anatomic regions: head, cervical spine, chest, and abdomen/pelvis. Charges related to NI scans decreased from $1,490.31/patient to $408.21/patient, saving $218,000 in charges. Based on prior utilization, 146 children were spared excessive radiation with no clinically significant missed injuries since guideline implementation. CONCLUSIONS: Quality improvement and implementation science methodologies to enhance compliance with imaging guidelines for children with blunt injuries can significantly reduce unnecessary CT scanning without compromising care. This practice reduces harmful radiation exposure in a sensitive patient population and may save healthcare systems money and resources.
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