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Although emergency department (ED) thoracotomy is performed only in selected adult trauma victims, it continues to be widely used in children. To evaluate if use of this liberal policy is justified in children, the charts of 23 pediatric trauma victims who underwent ED thoracotomy at our institution in the past 5 years were reviewed. Mechanism of injury was blunt trauma in 65% and penetrating injury in 35%. Optimal field care was provided, with the majority (74%) of these patients having had intubation and vasular access achieved in the field and transported within 10 minutes to the trauma center. Thoracotomy and open cardiac massage were performed within 5 minutes of arrival in the ED. Despite this aggressive management, only one child (4.4%) survived to discharge, although transient restoration of spontaneous circulation (RSC) was achieved in four (17.4%) children. There were no survivors in the blunttrauma group. All patients with penetrating trauma who had no vital signs in the field died. The cost of ED thoracotomy was $2,740 ± 214; however, the total hospitalization charges per patient averaged $14,848 ± $1,724. Forty -six percent of total charges were reimbursed, and financial loss to the hospital per patient was $6,448±$1,441. This study demonstrates that children who arrive at the ED following blunt or penetrating trauma with no cardiac rhythm are unsalvageable and should not undergo ED thoracotomy. The burden of unreimbursed care for this procedure is not trivial. Indications for ED thoracotomy in pediatric trauma victims should therfore be the same as those currently used for adult trauma victims.

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