Tag Archives: pediatric

Delayed Diagnoses In Children Revisited

A couple of years ago I wrote about a paper that examined patterns in delayed diagnoses in injured children. It was a single-hospital study of children treated at a Level II pediatric trauma center. In that study, the overall rate of delayed diagnosis was 4%. The orthopedic component looked high but was not really broken down in detail.

A soon-to-be-published study looked at more recent experience with this issue, specifically in pediatric patients with orthopedic injury. They specifically evaluated all pediatric patients with bone, joint, peripheral nerve, and tendon injuries treated at their Level I pediatric trauma center over a nearly 6 year period. Orthopedic surgery consults were obtained at the discretion of the trauma or primary service.

How good was their discretion? Here are the factoids:

  • 1009 trauma activations were reviewed, of which 196 (19%) were eventually diagnosed with an orthopedic injury
  • There were 18 children (9%) with a delayed diagnosis, defined as one discovered 12 hours or longer after admission. Most were missed on initial exam or imaging
  • The injuries were literally all over the place. There was no obvious pattern.
  • Six of these were detected on tertiary survey
  • Average time to discovery was 3 days, and the average age of these children was 11 years
  • Children with a delayed diagnosis tended to be much more seriously hurt (ISS 21 vs 9), and more likely to have a significant head injury (GCS 12 vs 14)
  • One child required surgery for the delayed diagnosis, the rest were managed with splinting/casting or observation

Bottom line: Delayed diagnoses happen in children, too. And typically, they are due to a failure in the physical exam. Sometimes there is nothing to discover on the exam. But often times, if the mechanism is fully taken into account and a really good  exam is performed, these injuries may be found early.

I don’t consider an injury found on tertiary exam to be a delayed diagnosis, as long as it is performed within a reasonable time frame (24-48 hours max). It’s a well established fact that some injuries will not manifest as pain or bruising until the next day, or longer. So pick a maximum time interval (but don’t make it too early either) and do a tertiary survey on all children who are trauma activations, have multiple injuries, or have a significant mechanism. 

Related posts:

Reference: Incidence of delayed diagnosis of orthopaedic injury in pediatric trauma patients. J Ortho Trauma epub ahead of print, April 29, 2017.

Spleen Embolization In Adolescents?

Modern day nonoperative management of solid organ injury in adults came to be due to its success rate in children. But if you look at the practice guidelines for adults, they frequently include a path for angioembolization in certain patients. In children, embolization is almost never recommended.

But what about that gray zone where children transition to adults? How young is too young to embolize? Or how old is too old not to consider it?

The adult and pediatric trauma groups at Wake Forest looked at this question by reviewing their respective trauma registry data. They looked specifically at patients age 13-18 who presented with a blunt splenic injury over a 8.5 year period. About halfway through this period, adult patients (> 16 years) were sent for embolization not only for pseudoaneurysm or extravasation, but also for high grade injury (> grade 3).  Patients under age 16 were managed by the pediatric trauma team, and those 16 and older by the adult team.

Here are the factoids:

  • Of the 133 patients studied, 59 were “adolescents” (age 13-15) and 74 were “adults” (16 or older)
  • Patients managed by the adult team sent 27 of their 74 patients for angiography
  • Those managed by the pediatric team were never sent to angiography
  • The failure rate for nonoperative management was statistically identical, about 4% in adults and 0% in adolescents
  • For high grade injuries, the adult team sent 27 of 34 patients to IR, whereas the pediatric team sent none of 36. Once again, failure rate was identical.

Bottom line: We already know that too many adult trauma centers send too many younger patients to angiography for solid organ injury. This study tries to tease out when a child becomes an adult, and therefore when angiography should begin to be considered. And basically, it showed that through age 15, they can still be considered as and treated like children, without angiography.

But remember, these numbers are relatively small, so take this work with a grain of salt. If you are managing a younger patient nonoperatively, and they continue to show evidence of blood loss (ongoing fluid/blood requirements, increasing heart rate), angiography may be helpful in avoiding laparotomy as long as your patient remains hemodynamically stable. But consult with your friendly neighborhood pediatric surgeon first.

Related posts:

Reference: The Spleen Not Taken: Differences in management and outcomes of blunt splenic injuries in teenagers cared for by adult and pediatric trauma teams in a single institution. J Trauma, in press, May 2017.

(Mis)Use of Helicopter Transport For Pediatric Trauma

Helicopter transport is an integral and important part of modern day trauma care. Since the inception helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) for civilian use in the 1970’s, its use has been steadily increasing. And it’s expensive, at least five times more costly than ground transport. Plus, there are risks to both crew and patient, in that there have been 200 deaths of both patients and flight crews. Indeed, flight crews have one of the riskiest jobs, with 5 times more on-the-job deaths than police officers.

So it becomes very important to make sure that this mode of transport is justified. As I wrote previously, the adult HEMS literature is extensive, but not terribly convincing. There is far less data available regarding pediatric patients. And the data that does exist suggests that there may be significant overtriage and overuse.

A study using the National Trauma Data Bank (NTDB) was performed by researchers at Duke University. They reviewed the data for a 5 year period (2007-2011), which is fairly old in my opinion. And they included “children” up through age 18, which are also a bit old, in my opinion. Since there are no real quantitative criteria for overtriage in place, the authors picked three: low injury severity (ISS<10), normal physiology (RTS=12), and low predicted mortality using TRISS (<5%). A total of 127,489 patient records were analyzed.

Here are the factoids:

  • 14% arrived via helicopter EMS,  56% by ground EMS, and 29% by private vehicle or walk-in
  • HEMS patients were more likely to have head, thoracic, or abdominal injuries, and overall severe injuries (good!)
  • Adjusted mortality for patients transported by air was significantly less than for ground (really good)
  • 38% of HEMS patients had ISS < 9, and 66% had completely normal physiology (bad)
  • Overall, 32% to 82% of children did not meet criteria for appropriate transport

Bottom line: There are a number of flaws in this study that could be improved upon. However, it does provide some interesting data. Helicopter transport does save lives in the younger population, and was estimated at 2 per 100 flights. This is very promising. However, offsetting this was the fact that nearly half of transports failed one or more arbitrary appropriateness criteria. The recommendations I published yesterday need to be adopted, and both state trauma systems and local EMS agencies need to develop and enforce guidelines to optimally use this valuable and expensive resource.

Reference: Current use and outcomes of helicopter transport in pediatric trauma: a review of 18,291 transports. J Ped Surg in press 27 Oct 2016.

Predicting VTE Risk In Children

There’s a lot of debate about if and at what age injured children develop significant risk for venous thromboembolism (VTE). In the adult world, it’s a little more clear cut, and nearly every patient gets some type of prophylactic device or drug. Kids, we’re not so certain about at all.

The Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin tried to tease out these factors to develop and implement a practice guideline for pediatric VTE prophylaxis. They prospectively reviewed over 4000 pediatric patients admitted over a 6 year period.

It looks like the guideline was developed using some or all of this data, then tested using regression models to determine which factors were significant. The guideline was then tweaked and a final model implemented.

Here are the factoids:

  • 588 of the patients (14%) were admitted to the ICU, and 199 of these were identified as high risk by the guidelines
  • Median age was 10 (this is always important in these studies)
  • VTE occurred in 4% of the ICU patients, and 10% of the high risk ones
  • Significant risk factors included presence of central venous catheter, use of inotropes, immobilization, and GCS < 9

Bottom line: This abstract confuses me. How were the guidelines developed? What were they, exactly? And the results seem to pertain to the ICU patients only. What about the non-ICU kids? The abstract just can’t convey enough information to do the study justice. Hopefully, the oral presentation will explain all.

I prefer a very nice analysis done at the Oregon Health Science University in Portland. I wrote about this study earlier this year. The authors developed a very useful calculator that includes most of the risk factors in this model, and a few more. Input the specific risks, and out comes a nice score. The only issue is, what is the score threshold to begin prophylaxis and monitoring? Much more practical (and understandable) than this abstract. Check it out at the link below.

Related post:


  1. Evaluation of guidelines for injured children at high risk for VTE: a prospective observational study. AAST 2016, Paper 68.
  2. A Clinical Tool for the Prediction of Venous Thromboembolism in Pediatric Trauma Patients. JAMA Surg 151(1):50-57, 2016.

Potentially Avoidable Pediatric Transfers

Pediatric emergency and trauma care is not readily available across a sizable chunk of the US, particularly in rural areas. Couple this with the fact that many rural emergency providers are not necessarily trained in emergency medicine and may have little recent pediatric training fosters the common practice of transferring these injured children to a higher level of care.

And unfortunately, many of these transferred children have relatively simple issues that really don’t actually need a transfer. Some studies have reported that up to 40% of children sent to tertiary pediatric centers are sent home in less than 24 hours.

Most research in this area focuses on single medical center experiences. An article currently in press looks at the experience of the entire state of Iowa over a 10 year period. The authors looked at all claims data for children between ages 8 days and 18 years. Children who were transferred were compared to those who were not.

Here are the factoids:

  • 2 million cases were included in the study, and only 1% were transferred (21,319)
  • Children in rural areas were transferred 3x more often than those in urban areas
  • Only 63% were transferred to a designated children’s hospital, and 45% were sent to an ED rather than direct transfer to an inpatient bed
  • 39% were potentially avoidable transfers, meaning that they were discharged from the receiving ED or the hospital within 24 hours of admission
  • Two of the top 5 reasons for transfer were trauma related: fracture, and TBI without blood in the head.
  • The cost for potentially avoidable transfers in the top 5 categories was $2 million dollars (!)

Bottom line: This is a very comprehensive study that shows the magnitude and cost consequences of potentially inappropriate pediatric transfers. It was not designed to figure out what to do about it, but it provides some insight for the problem solvers out there. Since we know the top 5 transfer diagnoses (seizure, fracture, TBI without bleeding, respiratory infection, and asthma), we can start to work on systems to provide education to rural providers on these topics, as well as real-time interaction to help them determine the 60% that really do need a higher level of care. Telemedicine will eventually be a big part of this, but most areas around the country are still struggling to figure out the details. Stay tuned!

Reference: Potentially Avoidable Pediatric Interfacility Transfer is a Costly Burden for Rural Families: A Cohort Study. Acad Emerg Med 28 March 2016, in press.