Imaging May Delay Transfer of Rural Trauma Victims: A Survey of Referring Physicians

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Abstract

Background:

Delayed transfer to a trauma center due to unnecessary imaging results in suboptimal patient outcome and increases healthcare costs. Unnecessary imaging may result from beliefs regarding trauma center requirements and legal concerns. We hypothesized that referring physicians consider factors other than clinical criteria when deciding to order imaging studies before transfer of trauma patients.

Methods:

A mail survey of 218 referring physicians to a level I trauma center elicited factors affecting decision to obtain imaging studies before transfer. Graded answers to six questions were obtained and demographics of the physician respondent. Statistical analysis was performed using Fisher’s exact test.

Results:

One hundred forty-nine of 218 surveys were returned (68.3%). One-third (33.1%) of respondents obtain imaging because of perceived expectations of the receiving trauma center, independent of patient acuity. Twenty percent incorrectly think that the law prohibits transfer before patients are stabilized. Twenty-eight percent obtain imaging because of liability concerns, even if that imaging delays transfer. Overall, 45% obtain imaging for either perceived requirement or liability concern. Non-advanced trauma life support (ATLS)-certified physicians are more likely to use all available resources before transfer than ATLS-certified physicians.

Conclusions:

Factors other than patient care dictate imaging acquisition in almost half of those surveyed. Misperception of expectations, misunderstanding of legal imperatives, and liability concerns all delay transport of the injured. ATLS-certified individuals use imaging more appropriately, thus, promoting more timely transfer. State-wide protocols, education, and liability reform may reduce transport delays.

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