Survey of critical care management of comatose, head-injured patients in the United States

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Abstract

Objective

This survey was designed to study current practices in the monitoring and treatment of patients with severe head injury in the United States.

Data Sources

The collected data represent answers to telephone interviews of nurse managers, clinical specialists, and staff nurses specializing in neurotrauma care at 277 randomly selected hospitals from a total pool of 624 trauma centers. Overall, 261 (94%) centers participated in the survey. Of the participating centers, 219 (84%) were providers of care for severely head-injured patients. In order to assess reliability and account for differences among respondents, personnel from 40 (15%) centers were resurveyed 6 months later and a different nursing professional was interviewed, although the questions remained the same.

Data Extraction

The largest group of respondents came from level I centers (49%), followed by level II (32%) and level III (2%). Thirty-four percent of the surveyed hospitals had a designated neurologic/neurosurgical intensive care unit, and 24% of all units surveyed were under the direction of either a neurosurgeon or a neurologist. Twenty-eight percent of the centers routinely performed intracranial pressure monitoring, while 7% of the centers reported never using this technique. The use of ventriculostomy catheters for intracranial pressure monitoring was employed in 72% of the centers, but cerebrospinal fluid drainage was utilized by only 44% of the hospitals. The percentage of patients who had their intracranial pressure monitored was significantly higher in level I trauma centers and at hospitals that treated larger numbers of severely head-injured patients (15 to 30 patients per month, which represented 15% of the hospitals surveyed). Hyperventilation and osmotic diuretics were used in 83% of centers to reduce intracranial hypertension. The administration of barbiturates was reported in 33% of the units as a treatment for intracranial hypertension. Corticosteroids were used more than half of the time in 64% of trauma centers. Twenty-nine percent of the centers reported aiming for PaCO2 values of <25 torr (<3.3 kPa).

Conclusions

The survey data indicate that there is a considerable variation in the management of patients with severe head injury in the United States. The establishment of guidelines for the management of head injury based on available scientific data and moderated by practical and financial considerations may lead to improvement in the standard of care.

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