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Utility of computed tomographic imaging of the cervical spine in trauma evaluation of ground-level fall.

BACKGROUND: Computed tomography (CT) of the cervical spine (C-spine) is routinely ordered for low-risk mechanisms of injury, including ground-level fall. Two commonly used clinical decision rules (CDRs) to guide C-spine imaging in trauma are the National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study (NEXUS) and the Canadian Cervical Spine Rule for Radiography (CCR).

METHODS: Retrospective cross-sectional study of 3,753 consecutive adult patients presenting to an urban Level I emergency department who received C-spine CT scans were obtained over a 6-month period. The primary outcome of interest was prevalence of C-spine fracture. Secondary outcomes included fracture stability, appropriateness of imaging by NEXUS and CCR criteria, and estimated radiation dose exposure and costs associated with C-spine imaging studies.

RESULTS: Of the 760 patients meeting inclusion criteria, 7 C-spine fractures were identified (0.92% ± 0.68%). All fractures were identified by NEXUS and CCR criteria with 100% sensitivity. Of all these imaging studies performed, only 69% met NEXUS indications for imaging (50% met CCR indications). C-spine CT scans in patients not meeting CDR indications were associated with costs of $15,500 to $22,000 by NEXUS ($14,600-$25,600 by CCR) in this single center during the 6-month study period.

CONCLUSION: For ground-level fall, C-spine CT is overused. The consistent application of CDR criteria would reduce annual nationwide imaging costs in the United States by $6.8 to $9.6 million based on NEXUS ($6.4-$15.6 million based on CCR) and would reduce population radiation dose exposure by 0.8 to 1.1 million mGy based on NEXUS (0.7-1.9 million mGy based on CCR) if applied across all Level I trauma centers. Greater use of evidence-based CDRs plays an important role in facilitating emergency department patient management and reducing systemwide radiation dose exposure and imaging expenditures.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Diagnostic study, level III.

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