The impact of prehospital instant photography of motor vehicle crashes on receiving physician perception

E T Dickinson, R E O'Connor, R D Krett
Prehospital Emergency Care 1997, 1 (2): 76-9

OBJECTIVES: The study was conducted to determine whether the use of prehospital instant photography of motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) by paramedics altered receiving physician (RP) perception of the magnitude of crash severity, as compared with verbal reports of vehicle damage. In addition, the study sought to determine whether altered RP perception resulted in any subsequent changes in emergency department (ED) management.

METHODS: A prospective questionnaire and retrospective chart review were used at a Level I suburban trauma center receiving MVC patients from a single municipal paramedic agency. Patients injured in MVCs who required advanced life support (ALS) interventions and were subsequently evaluated by either surgical residents, emergency medicine residents, or attending emergency physicians in the ED were eligible for study enrollment. Instant photographs of interior and exterior vehicle damage were obtained by paramedics who then provided a verbal report of vehicle damage to the RP. Initially blinded from the photographs, the RP was then asked to rate the severity of the crash based on the verbal report and list planned interventions (laboratory tests, blood products, radiographs, and probable patient disposition). The RP was then shown the crash photographs and once again asked to rate the crash severity based on the addition of the photos and list changes in patient management based on any alterations in his or her perception. Hospital records were then examined to determine costs billed to patients and the length of hospital stay for those patients who were admitted.

RESULTS: Instant photographs resulted in changes in physician perception in 47% (27 of 58) of the cases. Eighty-five percent of these physicians rated the MVC as more severe than the verbal report had indicated (p < 0.05 by multiple and logistic regression). The RPs who did alter their perceptions based upon the addition of MVC photos then changed their ED management in 59% (16 of 27) of the cases. Patients whose crash photographs altered RP perception of crash severity and who were subsequently released from the ED had average ED costs of $686, as compared with average ED charges of $595 for released patients whose crash photos did not alter physician perception of crash severity (p > 0.05 by Student's t-test). Inpatient charges and lengths of stay were also similar between the two groups for admitted patients: $21,363/14 days for the perception-change group and $24,726/8 days for the no-change-in-perception group (p > 0.05 for all comparisons).

CONCLUSION: The augmentation of verbal paramedic reports with prehospital instant photographs frequently altered both physician perception of MVC severity and subsequent ED management of these trauma patients. However, cost to the patient and length of hospital stay were not significantly altered as a result of the change in physician perception.

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