Monday, June 4, 2012

To scan or not to scan - that is not the (only) question

Inspired by the cadre of closed head injuries that I saw in a recent shift I figured I'd launch phase 2.0 of The PEMTweets website with a discussion about how we manage closed head injuries in children. The issue I'll be addressing here is not one of when to scan or not to scan - that is an important decision that is now well supported by existing literature. Instead, allow me to focus on how we communicate our decision to an anxious family. 

So, if you haven't already done so , go ahead and read the seminal Lancet 2009 article.
Kuppermann - Lancet, 2009

OK, welcome back... I ended up seeing three patients, all of whom presented by smacking their heads on hard surfaces. I've changed their names and ages to protect the innocent, and to avoid the wrath of Hungry Hungry HIPAA. 

  1. The first patient was a school aged male whose bike failed him, and whose helmet was hanging in his garage. He ended up introducing his occiput to the pavement, though his recollection of this event was foggy at best. His sensorium was mired in the same fog.
  2. The second was an infant, who despite her mother's best efforts, wriggled free from her arms and fell to the concrete below. The baby cried immediately, and aside from the large hematoma on her forehead, looked great.
  3. Sensing a theme, you might wager that the third cranium contacted concrete in a concussive cacophony (sorry about the alliteration). It did, but 2 days ago. A visit to an urgent care, and a 'medical' neighbor later - had filled the family with enough information to seek care at my ED as they wondered whether or not their robust toddler needed a head CT.

There is a delicate balance between managing the anxieties and expectations of a parent, when they are (justly so) legitimately worried about their child's well-being. Perhaps they are a medical professional themselves, and armed with just enough (mis)information to make them worry more than they should. Or maybe, they consulted Dr. Google, or worse, Dr. facebook in that back alley clinic that would make Dr. Nick Riviera of the Simpson's blush.

Go ahead and think for a moment about whether or not you would order a head CT on each patient (I know you are thinking about the decision to scan in each,  as your natural medicine brains will not allow you to avoid pursuing a diagnoses). But, hopefully this post will instead stimulate you to think about another very important question. Namely, how do you summarize the literature for an anxious, perhaps tearful family, and how do you communicate your recommendations to them, given the evidence that suggests when to scan, in the face of mounting concerns about the exposure to ionizing radiation.

Check out the next post where I'll share my thoughts. until then I'm interested in seeing what all of you are thinking.

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