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Topic 2: Cervical Spine Clearance in Pediatric Trauma Centers

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Review: (F. Bullaro) This is a web-based survey of pediatric trauma centers within the Pediatric Cervical Spine Study Group. There is variability in use of personnel (trauma/surgery, neurosurgery, and orthopedics) and modalities (CT and X-rays) for the evaluation of patients with potential c-spine injuries. Less than half of the institutions (46%) apply a written, standardized pediatric cervical spine clearance protocol.

Cervical Spine Clearance in Pediatric Trauma Centers: The Need for Standardization and an Evidence-based Protocol.
Pannu GS1, Shah MP, Herman MJ.
J Pediatr Orthop. 2016 Jun 18


Cervical spine clearance in the pediatric trauma patient represents a particularly challenging task. Unfortunately, standardized clearance protocols for pediatric cervical clearance are poorly reported in the literature and imaging recommendations demonstrate considerable variability. With the use of a web-based survey, this study aims to define the methods utilized by pediatric trauma centers throughout North America. Specific attention was given to the identification of personnel responsible for cervical spine care, diagnostic imaging modalities used, and the presence or absence of a written pediatric cervical spine clearance protocol.

A 10-question electronic survey was given to members of the newly formed Pediatric Cervical Spine Study Group, all of whom are active POSNA members. The survey was submitted via the online service SurveyMonkey ( The survey assessed the respondent's institution demographics, such as trauma level and services primarily responsible for consultation and operative management of cervical spine injuries. In addition, respondents were asked to identify the protocols and primary imaging modality used for cervical spine clearance. Finally, respondents were asked if their institution had a documented cervical spine clearance protocol.

Of the 25 separate institutions evaluated, 21 were designated as level 1 trauma centers. Considerable variation was reported with regards to the primary service responsible for cervical spine clearance. General Surgery/Trauma (44%) is most commonly the primary service, followed by a rotating schedule (33%), Neurosugery (11%), and Orthopaedic Surgery (8%). Spine consults tend to be seen most commonly by a rotating schedule of Orthopaedic Surgery and Neurosurgery. The majority of responding institutions utilize computed tomographic imaging (46%) as the primary imaging modality, whereas 42% of hospitals used x-ray primarily. The remaining institutions reported using a combination of x-ray and computed tomographic imaging. Only 46% of institutions utilize a written, standardized pediatric cervical spine clearance protocol.

This study demonstrates a striking variability in the use of personnel, imaging modalities and, most importantly, standardized protocol in the evaluation of the pediatric trauma patient with a potential cervical spine injury. Cervical spine clearance protocols have been shown to decrease the incidence of missed injuries, minimize excessive radiation exposure, decrease the time to collar removal, and lower overall associated costs. It is our opinion that development of a task force or multicenter research protocol that incorporates existing evidence-based literature is the next best step in improving the care of children with cervical spine injuries.