study finds more people aware of tbi risks seeking er treatment

Thanks to the tireless efforts of medical professionals, we now know more than ever about the hidden dangers of head injuries. Indeed, this knowledge has not only sparked greater vigilance on the part of both youth sports and high school sports coaches, but also spurred lawmakers to take action.

For example, some states — including Pennsylvania — have taken action and signed onto the Safety in Youth Sports Act, which is essentially legislation mandating improved baseline testing for concussion diagnoses among young athletes, while others have passed laws requiring all young bicyclists to wear helmets.

As it turns out, this increased awareness of the hidden dangers of head injuries also appears to be prompting more people to seek medical care in the immediate aftermath of an accident or other traumatic event.

A recent study funded by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC set out to determine the rates at which traumatic brain injuries were being diagnosed in U.S. emergency rooms.

In order to accomplish this, the researchers examined a comprehensive data pool drawn from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, a database that gathers information from emergency departments across the nation.

The researchers, whose work is scheduled to be published in the upcoming edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, determined that while only 1.7 percent of emergency room patients were diagnosed with TBIs in 2006, this number actually jumped by 29 percent by 2010.

Interestingly, the researchers also discovered that the age groups that saw the single greatest spike in ER visits for possible TBI treatment were children under the age of three and adults over the age of 60.

However, the researchers indicated that more research is needed to determine whether the spikes in these age categories can be attributed to greater caution on the part of family members or caregivers, or simply an uptick in accidents.

Regardless of this need for further research, many in the medical community are understandably enthused by the overall increase in ER visits, arguing that it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to TBIs, which often manifest themselves via symptoms that don’t necessarily correlate with their severity and necessitate very specific treatments for the best possible outcomes.

This study is certainly very interesting and indeed encouraging as it shows how people are starting to recognize the folly of simply discounting a blow to head. However, we can only hope that the ER physicians whose job it is to diagnose these TBIs don’t mistakenly dismiss them as other less serious conditions in the often hectic atmosphere of the emergency department.

Source: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “UPMC study finds uptick in reports of head injuries,” Brett Sholtis, May 13, 2014

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