CT scan is essential in diagnosing injury, although concerns for unnecessary radiation exposure are growing. These concerns are even greater in children, who may be more likely to have long-term effects from it. This makes avoiding duplication of CT scanning extremely important.
Unfortunately, there are only about 50 pediatric trauma centers in the US, so the majority of seriously injured children are seen at another hospital before transfer. Does CT evaluation at the first hospital increase the likelihood that a repeat scan will be needed at the trauma center, increasing radiation exposure and risk?
Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati looked at 3 years of transfers of injured children from community hospitals. They then looked at how many of those children had an initial head and/or abdomen scan at the outside hospital, and whether a repeat scan of those areas was performed within 4 hours or arrival at Rainbow.
Numbers were small, but here are the results:
- 33 had an outside CT scan, 28 (90%) were repeated
- 6 had an outside abdominal scan, 2 (33%) were repeated
- 55 did not have outside scans, none were repeated at Rainbow. (This is a weird thing to look at. I would hope that the trauma center didn’t have to repeat any of their own scans within 4 hours!)
Bottom line: It is critically important for referring hospitals to use radiation wisely! First, if the patient has obvious injuries that require transfer, don’t scan, just send. If you need to scan to decide whether you can keep the patient, use the best ALARA* technique you can. And trauma centers, please send a copy of your CT protocols to your referring hospitals so they can get the best images possible.
*ALARA = As low as reasonably achievable (applied to radiation exposure). Also known as ALARP outside of North America (as low as reasonably practicable). Click here for more info.
Reference: Computed tomography before transfer to a level I pediatric trauma center risks duplication with associated radiation exposure. J Pediatric Surg 43(12): 2268-2272, 2008.