Interhospital Transfer delays care for spinal cord injury patients: A Report from the North American Clinical Trials Network for Spinal Cord Injury.


The North America Clinical Trials Network (NACTN) for Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is a consortium of tertiary medical centers that has maintained a prospective SCI registry since 2004, and has espoused that early surgical intervention is associated with improved outcome. It has previously been shown that initial presentation to a lower acuity center and necessity of transfer to a higher acuity center reduce rates of early surgery. The NACTN database was evaluated to examine the association between interhospital transfer (IHT), early surgery, and outcome, taking into account distance traveled and site of origin for the patient. Data from a 15-year period of the NACTN SCI Registry were analyzed (years 2005-2019). Patients were stratified into transfers directly from the scene to a level I trauma center (NACTN site) versus IHT from a level II or III trauma facility. The main outcome was surgery within 24 hours of injury (yes/no) while secondary outcomes were length of stay, death, discharge disposition, and 6-month AIS grade conversion. For the IHT patients, distance traveled for transfer was calculated by measuring the shortest distance between origin and NACTN hospital. Analysis was performed with Brown-Mood test and chi-square tests. Of 724 patients with transfer data, 295 (40%) underwent IHT and 429 (60%) were admitted directly from the scene of accident. Patients who underwent IHT were more likely to have a less severe SCI (AIS D) (p=.002), have a central cord injury (p=.004), and have a fall as their mechanism of injury (p<.0001) than those directly admitted to a NACTN center. Of the 634 patients who had surgery, direct admission to a NACTN site was more likely to result in surgery within 24 hours compared to IHT patients (52% vs. 38%) (p< .0003). Median IHT distance was 28 miles (interquartile range=13-62 miles). There was no significant difference in death, length of stay, discharge to a rehab facility versus home, or 6-month AIS grade conversion rates between the two groups. Patients who underwent IHT to a NACTN site were less likely to have surgery within 24 hours of injury, compared to those directly admitted to the level I trauma facility. While there was no difference in mortality rates, length of stay, or 6-month AIS conversion between groups, patients with IHT were more likely be older with a less severe level of injury (AIS D). This work suggests there are barriers to timely recognition of SCI in the field, appropriate admission to a higher level of care after recognition, and challenges related to the management of individuals with less severe SCI.





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Publication Info

Kelly-Hedrick, Margot, Beatrice Ugiliweneza, Elizabeth G Toups, George Jimsheleishvili, Shekar N Kurpad, Bizhan Aarabi, James S Harrop, Norah Foster, et al. (2023). Interhospital Transfer delays care for spinal cord injury patients: A Report from the North American Clinical Trials Network for Spinal Cord Injury. Journal of neurotrauma. 10.1089/neu.2022.0408 Retrieved from

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Courtney Rory Goodwin

Associate Professor of Neurosurgery

Associate Professor of Neurosurgery, Radiation Oncology, Orthopedic Surgery.
Director of Spine Oncology,
Associate Residency Program Director
Third Year Study Program Director Neurosciences, Duke University School of Medicine
Director of Spine Metastasis, Duke Center for Brain and Spine Metastasis, Department of Neurosurgery
Duke Cancer Institute, Duke University Medical Center


Christopher Ignatius Shaffrey

Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery

I have more than 25 years of experience treating patients of all ages with spinal disorders. I have had an interest in the management of spinal disorders since starting my medical education. I performed residencies in both orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery to gain a comprehensive understanding of the entire range of spinal disorders. My goal has been to find innovative ways to manage the range of spinal conditions, straightforward to complex. I have a focus on managing patients with complex spinal disorders. My patient evaluation and management philosophy is to provide engaged, compassionate care that focuses on providing the simplest and least aggressive treatment option for a particular condition. In many cases, non-operative treatment options exist to improve a patient’s symptoms. I have been actively engaged in clinical research to find the best ways to manage spinal disorders in order to achieve better results with fewer complications.


Muhammad Abd-El-Barr

Associate Professor of Neurosurgery

As a Neurosurgeon with fellowship training in Spine Surgery, I have dedicated my professional life to treating patients with spine disorders. These include spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, herniated discs and spine tumors. I incorporate minimally-invasive spine (MIS) techniques whenever appropriate to minimize pain and length of stay, yet not compromise on achieving the goals of surgery, which is ultimately to get you back to the quality of life you once enjoyed. I was drawn to medicine and neurosurgery for the unique ability to incorporate the latest in technology and neuroscience to making patients better. I will treat you and your loved ones with the same kind of care I would want my loved ones to be treated with. In addition to my clinical practice, I will be working with Duke Bioengineers and Neurobiologists on important basic and translational questions surrounding spinal cord injuries (SCI), which we hope to bring to clinical relevance.

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