To identify the current practice patterns of emergency medicine practitioners and the typical criteria used in discontinuing cervical spine immobilization (CSI) in the pediatric patient.
All physicians on the mailing list of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section of Emergency Medicine and an equal number of randomly chosen members of the American College of Emergency Physicians. The total number of participants was 1360.
The survey consisted of a case scenario describing a 3-year-old child brought to the emergency department with CSI. The approach to such a scenario was assessed. Surveys were mailed with self-addressed stamped envelopes; repeat mailings were sent at 4 and 8 weeks after the first mailing. Those not currently in active practice or not involved in the decision to discontinue CSI were excluded from the study.
The response rate was 55%. Most respondents were younger than 44 years (71%), in practice less than 10 years (56%), and practiced in an urban setting (68%). Nearly two thirds (62.6%) had completed residency training in pediatrics, 24% in emergency medicine and 36% a pediatric emergency medicine fellowship. Most (63%) would discontinue CSI without obtaining radiographs. Factors associated with removal were residency training in pediatrics and being in practice for less than 10 years. The most common criteria for discontinuing CSI were normal neurological (96%) and cervical spine (98%) examinations, normal mental status (92%), and absence of neck pain (93%).
Discontinuing CSI without obtaining radiographs is common, especially among those with residency training in pediatrics and those in practice for less than 10 years. Knowledge of current practice is essential to future development of guidelines for managing pediatric trauma patients for whom cervical spine injury is a consideration.