Spinal Cord., Feb 2020

Clinical decision-making on spinal cord injury-associated pneumonia: a nationwide survey in Germany.

Druschel C, Ossami Saidy RR, Grittner U, Nowak CP, Meisel A, Schaser KD, Niedeggen A, Liebscher T, Kopp MA, Schwab JM



Survey study.


Spinal cord injury (SCI)-associated pneumonia (SCI-AP) is associated with poor functional recovery and a major cause of death after SCI. Better tackling SCI-AP requires a common understanding on how SCI-AP is defined. This survey examines clinical algorithms relevant for diagnosis and treatment of SCI-AP.


All departments for SCI-care in Germany.


The clinical decision-making on SCI-AP and the utility of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criteria for diagnosis of 'clinically defined pneumonia' were assessed by means of a standardized questionnaire including eight case vignettes of suspected SCI-AP. The diagnostic decisions based on the case information were analysed using classification and regression trees (CART).


The majority of responding departments were aware of the CDC-criteria (88%). In the clinical vignettes, 38-81% of the departments diagnosed SCI-AP in accordance with the CDC-criteria and 7-41% diagnosed SCI-AP in deviation from the CDC-criteria. The diagnostic agreement was not associated with the availability of standard operating procedures for SCI-AP management in the departments. CART analysis identified radiological findings, fever, and worsened gas exchange as most important for the decision on SCI-AP. Frequently requested supplementary diagnostics were microbiological analyses, C-reactive protein, and procalcitonin. For empirical antibiotic therapy, the departments used (acyl-)aminopenicillins/β-lactamase inhibitors, cephalosporins, or combinations of (acyl-)aminopenicillins/β-lactamase inhibitors with fluoroquinolones or carbapenems.


This survey reveals a diagnostic ambiguity regarding SCI-AP despite the awareness of CDC-criteria and established SOPs. Heterogeneous clinical practice is encouraging the development of disease-specific guidelines for diagnosis and management of SCI-AP.

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