The authors’ objective was to investigate the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic on hospital presentation and process of care for the treatment of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Improved understanding of these effects will inform sociopolitical and hospital policies in response to future pandemics.
The Michigan Trauma Quality Improvement Program (MTQIP) database, which contains data from 36 level I and II trauma centers in Michigan and Minnesota, was queried to identify patients who sustained TBI on the basis of head/neck Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) codes during the periods of March 13 through July 2 of 2017–2019 (pre–COVID-19 period) and March 13, 2020, through July 2, 2020 (COVID-19 period). Analyses were performed to detect differences in incidence, patient characteristics, injury severity, and outcomes.
There was an 18% decrease in the rate of encounters with TBI in the first 8 weeks (March 13 through May 7), followed by a 16% increase during the last 8 weeks (May 8 through July 2), of our COVID-19 period compared with the pre–COVID-19 period. Cumulatively, there was no difference in the rates of encounters with TBI between the COVID-19 and pre–COVID-19 periods. Severity of TBI, as measured with maximum AIS score for the head/neck region and Glasgow Coma Scale score, was also similar between periods. During the COVID-19 period, a greater proportion of patients with TBI presented more than a day after sustaining their injuries (p = 0.046). COVID-19 was also associated with a doubling in the decubitus ulcer rate from 1.0% to 2.1% (p = 0.002) and change in the distribution of discharge status (p = 0.01). Multivariable analysis showed no differences in odds of death/hospice discharge, intensive care unit stay of at least a day, or need for a ventilator for at least a day between the COVID-19 and pre–COVID-19 periods.
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of patients who presented with TBI was initially lower than in the years 2017–2019 prior to the pandemic. However, there was a subsequent increase in the rate of encounters with TBI, resulting in overall similar rates of TBI between March 13 through July 2 during the COVID-19 period and during the pre–COVID-19 period. The COVID-19 cohort was also associated with negative impacts on time to presentation, rate of decubitus ulcers, and discharge with supervision. Policies in response to future pandemics must consider the resources necessary to care for patients with TBI.