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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Estimation of Laceration Length by Emergency Department Personnel


Introduction: Documentation and billing for laceration repair involves a description of wound length. We designed this study to test the hypothesis that emergency department (ED) personnel can accurately estimate wound lengths without the aid of a measuring device.

Methods: This was a single-center prospective observational study performed in an academic ED. Seven wounds of varying lengths were simulated by creating lacerations on purchased pigs’ ears and feet. We asked healthcare providers, defined as nurses and physicians working in the ED, to estimate the length of each wound by visual inspection.  Length estimates were given in centimeters (cm) and inches. Estimated lengths were considered correct if the estimate was within 0.5 cm or 0.2 inches of the actual length. We calculated the differences between estimated and actual laceration lengths for each laceration and compared the accuracy of physicians to nurses using an unpaired t-test.

Results: Thirty-two physicians (nine faculty and 23 residents) and 16 nurses participated.  All subjects tended to overestimate in cm and inches.  Physicians were able to estimate laceration length within 0.5 cm 36% of the time and within 0.2 inches 29% of the time. Physicians were more accurate at estimating wound lengths than nurses in both cm and inches. Both physicians and nurses were more accurate at estimating shorter lengths (<5.0 cm) than longer (>5.0 cm).

Conclusion: ED personnel are often unable to accurately estimate wound length in either cm or inches and tend to overestimate laceration lengths when based solely on visual inspection. Abstract [West J Emerg Med. 2014;15(7):–0.]

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