Objective. To assess the prevalence and the prognostic factors of disabilities after minor and major childhood injuries and to analyze which sociodemographic and injury-related factors are predictive for suboptimal functioning in the long term.
Method. We conducted a patient follow-up study in a stratified sample of 1221 injured children who were aged 5 to 14 years and had visited an emergency department in the Netherlands. Our study sample was stratified so that severe, less common injuries were overrepresented. Postal questionnaires were sent 2.5, 5, and 9 months after the injury. We gathered injury and external cause data, sociodemographic information, and data on functional outcome with a generic health status measure EuroQol (EQ-5D) with an additional cognitive dimension. A nonresponse analysis was performed by multivariate logistic regression, and the data were adjusted for nonresponse and the sample stratification. We performed bootstrap analysis to estimate the prevalence of disability in terms of the EQ-5D summary score and the occurrence of limitations in separate health domains: mobility, self-care, usual activities, pain/discomfort, anxiety/depression, and cognition. Respondents also rated their own health state on a visual analog scale, between 0 (worst imaginable health state) and 100 (best imaginable health state). We analyzed the relationship between functional outcome and sociodemographic (age and gender) and injury-related determinants (type of injury, external cause, multiple injury, admission to hospital, and length of stay) by logistic regression analysis.
Results. Response rates with respect to the original sample were 43%, 31%, and 30%, respectively. A total of 37% of the children were admitted to the hospital. The mean age of the children was 9.6 years. In two thirds (65%) of the cases, the injury was attributed to a home and/or leisure injury. The health status of injured children improved from 0.92 (EQ-5D summary score) at 2.5 months to 0.96 at 5 months and 0.98 at 9 months. Of all injured children, 26% had at least 1 functional limitation after 2.5 months, 18% after 5 months, and 8% still experienced functional limitations after 9 months. After 2.5 months, lower extremity fractures and other injuries (eg, spinal cord injury, injury of the nerves) demonstrated the worst functional outcome. Independent of the type of injury, our sample of injured children generally showed good recovery between 2.5 and 9 months. The highest prevalence of dysfunction after 9 months existed for pain/discomfort (7%) and usual activities (5%). Hospital admission (odds ratio: 3.6–5.8) and female gender (odds ratio: 3.0) were predictive for long-term disability. Girls reported more problems for all health domains (except self-care) compared with boys after 9 months, which was also confirmed by the visual analog scale score for self-related health (89 for girls vs 95 for boys). Almost one fifth of injured children with a hospital stay of >3 days still had pain and problems with usual activities 9 months after the injury. Three quarters of all residual problems were caused by nonhospitalized injuries.
Conclusion. Most children show quick and full recovery after injury, but a small subgroup of patients (8%) have residual disabilities after 9 months. Girls have a 3-fold risk compared with boys for long-term disability after childhood injury. Prognosis in the long-term is also negatively influenced by hospitalization, but in absolute terms, residual disabilities are frequently caused by injuries that are treated fully in the emergency department. The group of injured children with persistent health problems as identified in this study indicates the importance of health monitoring over a longer period in trauma care, whereas trauma care should be targeted at early identification and management of the particular needs of these patients.