Observation for isolated traumatic skull fractures in the pediatric population: unnecessary and costly

Blackwood, B. P.; Bean, J. F.; Sadecki-Lund, C.; Helenowski, I. B.; Kabre, R.; Hunter, C. J.

J Pediatr Surg. 2015 Oct 17; 51(4):654-8


BACKGROUND: Blunt head trauma accounts for a majority of pediatric trauma admissions. There is a growing subset of these patients with isolated skull fractures, but little evidence guiding their management. We hypothesized that inpatient neurological observation for pediatric patients with isolated skull fractures and normal neurological examinations is unnecessary and costly. METHODS: We performed a single center 10year retrospective review of all head traumas with isolated traumatic skull fractures and normal neurological examination. Exclusion criteria included: penetrating head trauma, depressed fractures, intracranial hemorrhage, skull base fracture, pneumocephalus, and poly-trauma. In each patient, we analyzed: age, fracture location, loss of consciousness, injury mechanism, Emergency Department (ED) disposition, need for repeat imaging, hospital costs, intracranial hemorrhage, and surgical intervention. RESULTS: Seventy-one patients presented to our ED with acute isolated skull fractures, 56% were male and 44% were female. Their ages ranged from 1week to 12.4years old. The minority (22.5%) of patients were discharged from the ED following evaluation, whereas 77.5% were admitted for neurological observation. None of the patients required neurosurgical intervention. Age was not associated with repeat imaging or inpatient observation (p=0.7474, p=0.9670). No patients underwent repeat head imaging during their index admission. Repeat imaging was obtained in three previously admitted patients who returned to the ED. Cost analysis revealed a significant difference in total hospital costs between the groups, with an average increase in charges of $4,291.50 for admitted patients (p<0.0001). CONCLUSION: Pediatric isolated skull fractures are low risk conditions with a low likelihood of complications. Further studies are necessary to change clinical practice, but our research indicates that these patients can be discharged safely from the ED without inpatient observation. This change in practice, additionally, would allow for huge health care dollar savings.

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