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Developing a decision instrument to guide abdominal-pelvic imaging of blunt trauma patients: Methodology and protocol of the NEXUS abdominal-pelvic imaging study.


Although computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen and pelvis (A/P) can provide crucial information for managing blunt trauma patients, liberal and indiscriminant imaging is expensive, can delay critical interventions, and unnecessarily exposes patients to ionizing radiation. Currently no definitive recommendations exist detailing which adult blunt trauma patients should receive A/P CT imaging and which patients may safely forego CT. Considerable benefit could be realized by identifying clinical criteria that reliably classify the risk of abdominal and pelvic injuries in blunt trauma patients. Patients identified as "very low risk" by such criteria would be free of significant injury, receive no benefit from imaging and therefore could be safely spared the expense and radiation exposure associated with A/P CT. The goal of this two-phase nationwide multicenter observational study is to derive and validate the use of clinical criteria to stratify the risk of injuries to the abdomen and pelvis among adult blunt trauma patients. We estimate that nation-wide implementation of a rigorously developed decision instrument could safely reduce CT imaging of adult blunt trauma patients by more than 20%, and reduce annual radiographic charges by $180 million, while simultaneously expediting trauma care and decreasing radiation exposure with its attendant risk of radiation-induced malignancy. Prior to enrollment we convened an expert panel of trauma surgeons, radiologists and emergency medicine physicians to develop a consensus definition for clinically significant abdominal and pelvic injury. In the first derivation phase of the study, we will document the presence or absence of preselected candidate criteria, as well as the presence or absence of significant abdominal or pelvic injuries in a cohort of blunt trauma victims. Using recursive partitioning, we will examine combinations of these criteria to identify an optimal "very low risk" subset that identifies injuries with a sensitivity exceeding 98%, excludes injury with a negative predictive value (NPV) greater than 98%, and retains the highest possible specificity and potential to decrease imaging. In Phase 2 of the study we will validate the performance of a decision rule based on these criteria among a new cohort of patients to ensure that the criteria retain high sensitivity, NPV and optimal specificity. Validating the sensitivity of the decision instrument with high statistical precision requires evaluations on 317 blunt trauma patients who have significant abdominal-pelvic injuries, which will in turn require evaluations on approximately 6,340 blunt trauma patients. We will estimate potential reductions in CT imaging by counting the number of abdominal-pelvic CT scans performed on "very low risk" patients. Reductions in charges and radiation exposure will be determined by respectively summing radiographic charges and lifetime decreases in radiation morbidity and mortality for all "very low risk" cases. Trial registration: trial registration number: NCT04937868.

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