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Critical analysis of two decades of experience with postinjury emergency department thoracotomy in a regional trauma center.

BACKGROUND: Despite numerous studies, no clear consensus exists for the optimal use of emergency department thoracotomy (EDT). As such, we have continued to critically review our experience with EDT during the last 23 years to clarify indications for EDT and evaluate its cost-effectiveness.

METHODS: This was a retrospective review of 950 EDTs performed at our regional Level I trauma center during the last 23 years. Cost-benefit ratios were calculated using standardized models.

RESULTS: In 23 years, 950 patients underwent postinjury thoracotomy. We were able to obtain the complete medical records for 868 patients (91%). Overall survival was 4.4%, with 3.9% surviving functionally intact. All survivors of blunt trauma had either palpable pulse or recorded blood pressure in the field. Blunt trauma functional survival when field vital signs were present was 2.5%. Of note, 26.5% of our functional survivors sustained penetrating injuries and had no pulse or blood pressure in the field. Stab wounds to the chest and gunshot wounds to the abdomen were the two mechanisms of injury most likely to be survived. The benefit-charge ratio was strongly in favor of performing EDT at 5.6:1; it was 1.8:1 if adjusted for the cost of maintaining all neurologically injured survivors throughout their lifetime.

CONCLUSION: EDT is efficacious and cost-effective for select patient populations. We suggest a key clinical pathway for the use of EDT that would reduce the number of procedures by at least 32% without changing the number of neurologically intact survivors.

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