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Derivation and validation of a clinical decision rule to identify young children with skull fracture following isolated head trauma [Research]

Background:

There is no clear consensus regarding radiologic evaluation of head trauma in young children without traumatic brain injury. We conducted a study to develop and validate a clinical decision rule to identify skull fracture in young children with head trauma and no immediate need for head tomography.

Methods:

We performed a prospective cohort study in 3 tertiary care emergency departments in the province of Quebec. Participants were children less than 2 years old who had a head trauma and were not at high risk of clinically important traumatic brain injury (Glasgow Coma Scale score < 15, altered level of consciousness or palpable skull fracture). The primary outcome was skull fracture. For each participant, the treating physician completed a standardized report form after physical examination and before radiologic evaluation. The decision to order skull radiography was at the physician’s discretion. The clinical decision rule was derived using recursive partitioning.

Results:

A total of 811 patients (49 with skull fracture) were recruited during the derivation phase. The 2 predictors identified through recursive partitioning were parietal or occipital swelling or hematoma and age less than 2 months. The rule had a sensitivity of 94% (95% confidence interval [CI] 83%–99%) and a specificity of 86% (95% CI 84%–89%) in the derivation phase. During the validation phase, 856 participants (44 with skull fracture) were recruited. The rule had a sensitivity of 89% and a specificity of 87% during this phase.

Interpretation:

The clinical decision rule developed in this study identified about 90% of skull fractures among young children with mild head trauma who had no immediate indication for head tomography. Use of the rule would have reduced the number of radiologic evaluations by about 60%.

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