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Triage tools for detecting cervical spine injury in pediatric trauma patients.

BACKGROUND: Pediatric cervical spine injury (CSI) after blunt trauma is rare. Nonetheless, missing these injuries can have severe consequences. To prevent the overuse of radiographic imaging, two clinical decision tools have been developed: The National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study (NEXUS) criteria and the Canadian C-spine Rule (CCR). Both tools are proven to be accurate in deciding whether or not diagnostic imaging is needed in adults presenting for blunt trauma screening at the emergency department. However, little information is known about the accuracy of these triage tools in a pediatric population.

OBJECTIVES: To determine the diagnostic accuracy of the NEXUS criteria and the Canadian C-spine Rule in a pediatric population evaluated for CSI following blunt trauma.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched the following databases to 24 February 2015: CENTRAL, MEDLINE, MEDLINE Non-Indexed and In-Process Citations, PubMed, Embase, Science Citation Index, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Database, OpenGrey,, World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP), Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects, the Health Technology Assessment, and the Aggressive Research Intelligence Facility.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included all retrospective and prospective studies involving children following blunt trauma that evaluated the accuracy of the NEXUS criteria, the Canadian C-spine Rule, or both. Plain radiography, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the cervical spine, and follow-up were considered as adequate reference standards.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently assessed the quality of included studies using the QUADAS-2 checklists. They extracted data on study design, patient characteristics, inclusion and exclusion criteria, clinical parameters, target condition, reference standard, and the diagnostic two-by-two table. We calculated and plotted sensitivity, specificity and negative predictive value in ROC space, and constructed forest plots for visual examination of variation in test accuracy.

MAIN RESULTS: Three cohort studies were eligible for analysis, including 3380 patients ; 96 children were diagnosed with CSI. One study evaluated the accuracy of the Canadian C-spine Rule and the NEXUS criteria, and two studies evaluated the accuracy of the NEXUS criteria. The studies were of moderate quality. Due to the small number of included studies and the diverse outcomes of those studies, we could not describe a pooled estimate for the diagnostic test accuracy. The sensitivity of the NEXUS criteria of the individual studies was 0.57 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.18 to 0.90), 0.98 (95% CI 0.91 to 1.00) and 1.00 (95% CI 0.88 to 1.00). The specificity of the NEXUS criteria was 0.35 (95% CI 0.25 to 0.45), 0.54 (95% CI 0.45 to 0.62) and 0.2 (95% CI 0.18 to 0.21). For the Canadian C-spine Rule the sensitivity was 0.86 (95% CI 0.42 to 1.00) and specificity was 0.15 (95% CI 0.08 to 0.23). Since the quantity of the data was small we were not able to investigate heterogeneity.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There are currently few studies assessing the diagnostic test accuracy of the NEXUS criteria and CCR in children. At the moment, there is not enough evidence to determine the accuracy of the Canadian C-spine Rule to detect CSI in pediatric trauma patients following blunt trauma. The confidence interval of the sensitivity of the NEXUS criteria between the individual studies showed a wide range, with a lower limit varying from 0.18 to 0.91 with a total of four false negative test results, meaning that if physicians use the NEXUS criteria in children, there is a chance of missing CSI. Since missing CSI could have severe consequences with the risk of significant morbidity, we consider that the NEXUS criteria are at best a guide to clinical assessment, with current evidence not supporting strict or protocolized adoption of the tool into pediatric trauma care. Moreover, we have to keep in mind that the sensitivity differs among several studies, and individual confidence intervals of these studies show a wide range. Our main conclusion is therefore that additional well-designed studies with large sample sizes are required to better evaluate the accuracy of the NEXUS criteria or the Canadian C-spine Rule, or both, in order to determine whether they are appropriate triage tools for the clearance of the cervical spine in children following blunt trauma.

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