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Pediatr Emerg Care. 2020 Jan;36(1):21-25. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000002016.

Sources of Variability in Pediatric Head Computed Tomography Use Among Emergency Departments in New Jersey.

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From the NJHA Institute for Quality and Patient Safety, New Jersey Hospital Association, Princeton.
Department of Emergency Medicine, Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, Camden, NJ.
Department of Emergency Medicine, USC Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA.
New Jersey Hospital Association, Princeton, NJ.



Published guidelines have been developed to limit ionizing radiation exposure in children related to diagnostic computed tomography (CT). This study examines the sources of variability in head CT use in children in emergency departments (EDs) in New Jersey despite the presence of such consensus recommendations.


The New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA) Clinical Repository was queried for study data on all patients younger than 18 years discharged from the ED over a 1-year period. Patient information collected included: treating hospital, patient age, discharge diagnosis, use of head CT, children's hospital (CH) certification, presence of licensed in-patient pediatric beds, association with a hospital system and hospital annual pediatric ED volume. A potential diagnosis requiring a head CT (PDRCT) was defined as one of the following discharge diagnoses: Head Injury, Seizure, Syncope or Headache. Analysis of CT use per 10,000 ED visits was performed through ANOVA, analysis of means for variances, and χ.


A total of 735,866 ED visits were examined with 16,942 (2.3%) undergoing head CTs. Mean Pediatric Head CT use per 10,000 ED visits for the state was 275 (±16; range, 27-640). During the study period 47,169 (6.4%) ED visits met the PDRCT criteria, 11,495 (27%) of which underwent head CTs. Mean Pediatric Head CT use in this group per 10,000 PDRCT visits was 2948 (±152; range, 728-5806). Characteristics associated with lowest use of head CTs in the PDRCT group included: ED census greater than 10,000 visits per year, CH designation, and younger patient. The presence of in-patient pediatric beds and association with a hospital system with or without an in system CH were not associated with lower head CT use.


Despite existing recommendation regarding head CTs in children, there exists a large degree of variability in use of this diagnostic study in EDs in New Jersey.

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