Rural-dwelling children may suffer worse pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI) outcomes due to distance from and accessibility to high-volume trauma centers. This study aimed to compare the impacts of institutional TBI volume and sociodemographics on outcomes between rural- and urban-dwelling children.
This retrospective study identified patients 0–19 years of age with ICD-9 codes for TBI in the 2012–2015 National Inpatient Sample database. Patients were characterized as rural- or urban-dwelling using United States Census classification. Logistic and linear (in log scale) regressions were performed to measure the effects of institutional characteristics, patient sociodemographics, and mechanism/severity of injury on occurrence of medical complications, mortality, length of stay (LOS), and costs. Separate models were built for rural- and urban-dwelling patients.
A total of 19,736 patients were identified (median age 11 years, interquartile range [IQR] 2–16 years, 66% male, 55% Caucasian). Overall, rural-dwelling patients had higher All Patient Refined Diagnosis Related Groups injury severity (median 2 [IQR 1–3] vs 1 [IQR 1–2], p < 0.001) and more intracranial monitoring (6% vs 4%, p < 0.001). Univariate analysis showed that overall, rural-dwelling patients suffered increased medical complications (6% vs 4%, p < 0.001), mortality (6% vs 4%, p < 0.001), and LOS (median 2 days [IQR 1–4 days ] vs 2 days [IQR 1–3 days], p < 0.001), but multivariate analysis showed rural-dwelling status was not associated with these outcomes after adjusting for injury severity, mechanism, and hospital characteristics. Institutional TBI volume was not associated with medical complications, disposition, or mortality for either population but was associated with LOS for urban-dwelling patients (nonlinear beta, p = 0.008) and cost for both rural-dwelling (nonlinear beta, p < 0.001) and urban-dwelling (nonlinear beta, p < 0.001) patients.
Overall, rural-dwelling pediatric patients with TBI have worsened injury severity, mortality, and in-hospital complications, but these disparities disappear after adjusting for injury severity and mechanism. Institutional TBI volume does not impact clinical outcomes for rural- or urban-dwelling children after adjusting for these covariates. Addressing the root causes of the increased injury severity at hospital arrival may be a useful path to improve TBI outcomes for rural-dwelling children.