Done as a collaborative study that included researchers at NIH’s Bethesda campus, the results showed that of 831 patients who self-reported a TBI, only 44 percent received relevant educational material at discharge or had follow-up appointments with a health-care provider within three months after treatments. Of those patients, 15 percent visited a clinic that specialized in head injury. Approximately half of the patients saw a general practitioner, and close to a third reported seeing more than one type of doctor.
Bellgowan explained that the study is only the first part of a much-larger study aiming to evaluate TBI follow-up care among 3000 recruited participants.
“The key finding is that people are coming to the emergency room diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury … and they’re leaving the hospital without any information on what they should know about their injury … and not seeing another physician to see if they’re getting the correct treatment,” Bellgowan said.
“Probably the most shocking finding … it showed more than half the people who had a positive CT scan, which means there’s something wrong in their brain … didn’t get follow-up treatment,” he added.
Researchers recruited participants from the “Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in Traumatic Brain Injury,” an NIH-funded, UCSF-based study aimed at examining long-term TBI treatment. The study examined treatment at emergency rooms in numerous cities across the country between February 2014 and August 2016.
Limitations on the study included the small sample size, primarily drawn from university-based emergency centers, and biases associated with self-reporting. Both limitations could have skewed the results, the researchers wrote in their published study.
Bellgowan added that following the study, he hopes the medical community will update its guidelines to ensure proper follow-up treatment for patients suffering from a concussion or TBI.
According to the CDC, TBI symptoms include difficulty in thinking clearly and concentrating, headaches, and fuzzy or blurry vision and nausea. The agency recommends immediate medical attention if symptoms persist or worsen.
The Maryland Department of Health reports that, between 2012 and 2015, TBI-related emergency room visits continued to increase while TBI-related deaths and hospitalizations decreased.