A Multicenter Program to Implement the Canadian C-Spine Rule by Emergency Department Triage Nurses

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Abstract

Study objective

The Canadian C-Spine Rule has been widely applied by emergency physicians to safely reduce use of cervical spine imaging. Our objective is to evaluate the clinical effect and safety of real-time Canadian C-Spine Rule implementation by emergency department (ED) triage nurses to remove cervical spine immobilization.

Methods

We conducted this multicenter, 2-phase, prospective cohort program at 9 hospital EDs and included alert trauma patients presenting with neck pain or with cervical spine immobilization. During phase 1, ED nurses were trained and then had to demonstrate competence before being certified. During phase 2, certified nurses were empowered by a medical directive to “clear” the cervical spine of patients, allowing them to remove cervical spine immobilization and to triage to a less acute area. The primary outcomes were clinical effect (cervical spine clearance by nurses) and safety (missed clinically important cervical spine injuries).

Results

In phase 1, 312 nurses evaluated 3,098 patients. In phase 2, 180 certified nurses enrolled 1,408 patients (mean age 43.1 years, women 52.3%, collision 56.5%, and cervical spine injury 1.1%). In phase 2 and for the 806 immobilized ambulance patients, the primary outcome of immobilization removal by nurses was 41.1% compared with 0% before the program. The primary safety outcome of cervical spine injuries missed by nurses was 0. Time to discharge was reduced by 26.0% (3.4 versus 4.6 hours) for patients who had immobilization removed. In only 1.3% of cases did nurses indicate their discomfort with applying the Canadian C-Spine Rule.

Conclusion

We clearly demonstrated that ED triage nurses can successfully implement the Canadian C-Spine Rule, leading to more rapid and comfortable management of patients without any threat to patient safety. Widespread adoption of this approach should improve care and comfort for trauma patients, and could decrease length of stay in our very crowded EDs.

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