Comparison of Vital Sign Cutoffs to Identify Children With Major Trauma

Jillian K. Gorski, Pradip P. Chaudhari, Ryan G. Spurrier, Seth Daniel Goldstein, Suhail Zeineddin, Christian Martin-Gill, Robert J. Sepanski, Anne M. Stey, Sriram Ramgopal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


IMPORTANCE Vital signs are essential components in the triage of injured children. The Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) physiologic criteria are frequently used for trauma assessments. OBJECTIVE To evaluate the performance of ATLS and PALS criteria vs empirically derived criteria for identifying major trauma in children. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS This retrospective cohort study used 2021 American College of Surgeons Trauma Quality Improvement Program (TQIP) data contributed by US trauma centers. Included encounters involved pediatric patients (aged <18 years) with severe injury, excluding those who experienced out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, were receiving mechanical ventilation, or were transferred from another facility. Data were analyzed between April 9 and December 21, 2023. EXPOSURE Initial hospital vital signs, including heart rate, respiratory rate, and systolic blood pressure (SBP). MAIN OUTCOME AND MEASURES Major trauma, determined by the Standard Triage Assessment Tool, a composite measure of injury severity and interventions performed. Multivariable models developed from PALS and ATLS vital sign criteria were compared with models developed from the empirically derived criteria using the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve. Validation of the findings was performed using the 2019 TQIP dataset. RESULTS A total of 70 748 patients (median [IQR] age, 11 [5-15] years; 63.4%male) were included, of whom 3223 (4.6%) had major trauma. The PALS criteria classified 31.0% of heart rates, 25.7%of respiratory rates, and 57.4%of SBPs as abnormal. The ATLS criteria classified 25.3%of heart rates, 4.3%of respiratory rates, and 1.1% of SBPs as abnormal. Among children with all 3 vital signs documented (64 326 [90.9%]), PALS had a sensitivity of 88.4%(95%CI, 87.1%-89.3%) and specificity of 25.1% (95%CI, 24.7%-25.4%) for identifying major trauma, and ATLS had a sensitivity of 54.5%(95%CI, 52.7%-56.2%) and specificity of 72.9% (95%CI, 72.6%-73.3%). The empirically derived cutoff vital sign z scores had a sensitivity of 80.0% (95%CI, 78.5%-81.3%) and specificity of 48.7%(95%CI, 48.3%-49.1%) and area under the receiver operating characteristic curve of 70.9% (95%CI, 69.9%-71.8%), which was similar to PALS criteria (69.6%; 95%CI, 68.6%-70.6%) and greater than ATLS criteria (65.4%; 95%CI, 64.4%-66.3%). Validation using the 2019 TQIP database showed similar performance to the derivation sample. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE These findings suggest that empirically derived vital sign criteria strike a balance between the sensitivity of PALS criteria and the specificity of ATLS criteria in identifying major trauma in children. These criteria may help to identify children at greatest risk of trauma-related morbidity and mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E2356472
JournalJAMA network open
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 16 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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