Study design: Survey study.
Objectives: 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.
Setting: All departments for SCI-care in Germany.
Methods: 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).
Results: 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.
Conclusions: 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.