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Andreas Leidinger, Scott L. Zuckerman, Yueqi Feng, Yitian He, Xinrui Chen, Beverly Cheserem, Linda M. Gerber, Noah L. Lessing, Hamisi K. Shabani, Roger Härtl, and Halinder S. Mangat

OBJECTIVE

The burden of spinal trauma in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is immense, and its management is made complex in such resource-restricted settings. Algorithmic evidence-based management is cost-prohibitive, especially with respect to spinal implants, while perioperative care is work-intensive, making overall care dependent on multiple constraints. The objective of this study was to identify determinants of decision-making for surgical intervention, improvement in function, and in-hospital mortality among patients experiencing acute spinal trauma in resource-constrained settings.

METHODS

This study was a retrospective analysis of prospectively collected data in a cohort of patients with spinal trauma admitted to a tertiary referral hospital center in Dar es Salam, Tanzania. Data on demographic, clinical, and treatment characteristics were collected as part of a quality improvement neurotrauma registry. Outcome measures were surgical intervention, American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Impairment Scale (AIS) grade improvement, and in-hospital mortality, based on existing treatment protocols. Univariate analyses of demographic and clinical characteristics were performed for each outcome of interest. Using the variables associated with each outcome, a machine learning algorithm-based regression nonparametric decision tree model utilizing a bootstrapping method was created and the accuracy of the three models was estimated.

RESULTS

Two hundred eighty-four consecutively admitted patients with acute spinal trauma were included over a period of 33 months. The median age was 34 (IQR 26–43) years, 83.8% were male, and 50.7% had experienced injury in a motor vehicle accident. The median time to hospital admission after injury was 2 (IQR 1–6) days; surgery was performed after a further median delay of 22 (IQR 13–39) days. Cervical spine injury comprised 38.4% of the injuries. Admission AIS grades were A in 48.9%, B in 16.2%, C in 8.5%, D in 9.5%, and E in 16.6%. Nearly half (45.1%) of the patients underwent surgery, 12% had at least one functional improvement in AIS grade, and 11.6% died in the hospital. Determinants of surgical intervention were age ≤ 30 years, spinal injury level, admission AIS grade, delay in arrival to the referral hospital, undergoing MRI, and type of insurance; admission AIS grade, delay to arrival to the hospital, and injury level for functional improvement; and delay to arrival, injury level, delay to surgery, and admission AIS grade for in-hospital mortality. The best accuracies for the decision tree models were 0.62, 0.34, and 0.93 for surgery, AIS grade improvement, and in-hospital mortality, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS

Operative intervention and functional improvement after acute spinal trauma in this tertiary referral hospital in an LMIC environment were low and inconsistent, which suggests that nonclinical factors exist within complex resource-driven decision-making frameworks. These nonclinical factors are highlighted by the authors’ results showing clinical outcomes and in-hospital mortality were determined by natural history, as evidenced by the highest accuracy of the model predicting in-hospital mortality.