Emergency and acute care management of traumatic spinal cord injury: a survey of current practice among senior clinicians across Australia.

Publication Type:
Journal Article
BMC Emerg Med, 2018, 18, (1), pp. 57
Issue Date:
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BACKGROUND: To describe pre-hospital, emergency department and acute care assessment and management practices of senior clinicians for patients with acute traumatic spinal cord injury (TSCI) across Australia; and to describe clinical practice variation. METHODS: We used a descriptive, cross-sectional study design to survey senior clinicians (greater than 10 years practice in this field) caring for patients with acute TSCI. The assessment, management and referral practices of prehospital, emergency department/trauma and surgical expert clinicians, across prehospital, early hospital care, diagnostic imaging and haemodynamic management were surveyed. RESULTS: We invited 95 eligible senior clinicians; the response rate was 75%. Survey findings demonstrated overall lack of awareness or consistent use of evidence based published guidelines; many clinicians following 'locally written' or 'no particular' guideline. Practitioners were conflicted across multiple areas including patient assessment and diagnosis, treatment and transport decisions. Reported spinal immobilisation practices differed substantially, as did target setting for blood pressure; the majority of clinicians actively monitored risk of respiratory deterioration. Specialist care consult and specialist service bed availability was reported as problematic by more than one third of clinicians. CONCLUSIONS: Unwarranted clinical practice variation is known to contribute to different health outcomes for patients with similar etiologies. Clinical practice guidelines offer evidence based, best practice standards, however are only effective if adopted throughout the healthcare system. Wide variability in acute care practices, pathways and timing to specialist centres for TSCI was evidenced by this survey despite seniority among clinicians. This devastating injury requires prompt, consistent, evidence based care from the moment of first responder. Improved outcomes for patients with TSCI would be more likely with standardised care across pre-hospital, emergency and acute care phases of care.
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