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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Increase in Non-Contrast Computerized Tomography Scans of the Head Following Popular Media Stories About Head Injury


Introduction: On March 18, 2009, actress Natasha Richardson died after a head injury. It is possiblethat the rate of patients presenting with mild head injury and receiving computed tomographies (CTs)may have been influenced by the Richardson event. We hypothesized that there was a statisticallysignificant increase in the rate of census-adjusted head CTs performed for mild trauma after March16, 2009, compared to prior to this date.

Methods: We included all with a non-contrast head CT performed from the emergency department(ED) between March 1and April 15, 2009, for minor trauma. The primary outcome was the censusadjustedrate of head CTs per time (# of head CTs/census). We compared the census adjusted ratefor the 2 weeks prior to 2 weeks after the accident. To document media dissemination we searchedLexis-Nexis for news stories mentioning “Richardson.”

Results: In the 2 weeks prior to March 16, 2009, the census-adjusted rate was 0.81% (95% CI0.54–1.16) and there were no stories. The first media reports appeared on March 16, 2009, (n = 19)and quickly doubled (n = 40, n = 43) over the subsequent 2 days. The rate of CTs nearly doubledduring the 2 weeks post accident 1.46% (1.10–1.91%). This absolute increase in rate percentagewas statistically significant. (0.65%; 0.17 to 1.14%).

Conclusion: The percentage of all ED patients seen with mild trauma tested with head CT almostdoubled when comparing the pre-Richardson accident vs. post time periods. There was an increasein media reports of the accident that occurred rapidly after the event and peaked on day 3. [West J Emerg Med. 2012;13(6):548-550]

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