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Prehospital clearance of the cervical spine: does it need to be a pain in the neck?


Prehospital cervical spine (c-spine) immobilisation is common, despite c-spine injury being relatively rare. Unnecessary immobilisation results in a significant burden on limited prehospital and emergency department (ED) resources. This study aimed to determine whether the incidence of unnecessary c-spine immobilisation by ambulance personnel could be safely reduced through the implementation of an evidence-based algorithm. Following a training programme, complete forms on 103 patients were identified during the audit period, of which 69 (67%) patients had their c-spines cleared at scene. Of these, 60 (87%) were discharged at scene, with no clinical adverse events reported, and 9 (13%) were taken to the local ED with non-distracting minor injuries, all being discharged home the same day. 34 (33%) patients could not have their c-spines safely cleared at scene according to the algorithm. Of these, 4 (12%) patients self-discharged at scene and 30 (88%) were conveyed to an ED as per the normal procedure. C-spine clearance at scene by ambulance personnel may have positive impacts on patient care, efficient use of resources and cost to healthcare organisations.

  • c-spine, cervical spine
  • CSI, cervical spine injury
  • ED, emergency department

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