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Carolyn Quinsey, Jessica Eaton, Weston Northam, Matt Gilleskie, Anthony Charles and Eldad Hadar

Global health research can transform clinical and surgical practice worldwide. Partnerships between US academic centers and hospitals in low- and middle-income counties can improve clinical care at the host institution hospital and give the visiting institution access to a large volume of valuable research data. Recognizing the value of these partnerships, the University of North Carolina (UNC) formed a partnership with Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in Lilongwe, Malawi.

The Department of Neurosurgery joined the partnership with KCH and designed a Head Trauma Surveillance Registry. The success of this registry depended on the development of methods to accurately collect head injury data at KCH. Since medical record documentation is often unreliable in this setting, data collection teams were implemented to capture data from head trauma patients on a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week basis. As data collection improved, pilot groups tested methods to collect new variables and the registry expanded. UNC provided onsite and remote oversight to strengthen the accuracy of the data.

Data accuracy still remains a hurdle in global research. Data collection teams, oversight from UNC, pilot group testing, and meaningful collaboration with local physicians improved the accuracy of the head trauma registry. Overall, these methods helped create a more accurate epidemiological and outcomes-centered analysis of brain injury patients at KCH to date.

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Weston Northam, Avinash Chandran, Carolyn Quinsey, Andrew Abumoussa, Alex Flores and Scott Elton

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.

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Weston Northam, Kristi Hildebrand, Scott Elton and Carolyn Quinsey