Pediatric nonoperative skull fractures: delayed complications and factors associated with clinic and imaging utilization

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OBJECTIVE

Skull fractures represent a common source of morbidity in the pediatric trauma population. This study characterizes the type of follow-up that these patients receive and discusses predictive factors for follow-up.

METHODS

The authors reviewed cases of nonoperative pediatric skull fractures at a single academic hospital between 2007 and 2017. Clinical patient and radiological fractures were recorded. Recommended neurosurgical follow-up, follow-up appointments, imaging studies, and fracture-related complications were recorded. Statistical analyses were performed to identify predictors for outpatient follow-up and imaging.

RESULTS

The study included 414 patients, whose mean age was 5.2 years; 37.2% were female, and the median length of stay was 1 day (IQR 0.9–4 days). During 438 clinic visits and a median follow-up period of 8 weeks (IQR 4–12, range 1–144 weeks), 231 imaging studies were obtained, mostly head CT scans (55%). A total of 283 patients were given recommendations to attend follow-up in the clinic, and 86% were seen. Only 12 complications were detected, including 7 growing skull fractures, 2 traumatic encephaloceles, and 3 cases of hearing loss. Primary care physician (PCP) status and insurance status were associated with a recommendation of follow-up, actual follow-up compliance, and the decision to order outpatient imaging in patients both with and without intracranial hemorrhage. PCP status remained an independent predictor in each of these analyses. Follow-up compliance was not associated with a patient’s distance from home. Among patients without intracranial hemorrhage, a follow-up recommendation and actual follow-up compliance were associated with pneumocephalus and other polytraumatic injuries, and outpatient imaging was associated with a bilateral fracture. No complications were found in patients with linear fractures above the skull base in those without an intracranial hemorrhage.

CONCLUSIONS

Pediatric nonoperative skull fractures drive a large expenditure of clinic and imaging resources to detect a relatively small profile of complications. Understanding the factors underlying the decision for clinic follow-up and additional imaging can decrease future costs, resource utilization, and radiation exposure. Factors related to injury severity and socioeconomic indicators were associated with outpatient imaging, the decision to follow up patients in the clinic, and patients’ subsequent attendance. Socioeconomic status (PCP and insurance) may affect access to appropriate neurosurgical follow-up and deserves future research attention. Patients with no intracranial hemorrhage and with a linear fracture above the skull base do not appear to be at risk for delayed complications and could be candidates for reduced follow-up and imaging.

ABBREVIATIONS ED = emergency department; GCS = Glasgow Coma Scale; PCP = primary care physician; TBI = traumatic brain injury.
Article Information

Contributor Notes

Correspondence Scott Elton: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC. scott_elton@med.unc.edu.INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online August 30, 2019; DOI: 10.3171/2019.5.PEDS18739.Disclosures The authors report no conflict of interest concerning the materials or methods used in this study or the findings specified in this paper.
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