The variable role of damage control laparotomy over 19 years of trauma care in Pennsylvania

Published:December 13, 2022DOI:



      Damage control laparotomy emphasizes physiologic stabilization of critically injured patients and allows staged surgical management. However, there is little consensus on the optimal criteria for damage control laparotomy. We examined variability between centers and over time in Pennsylvania.


      We analyzed the Pennsylvania Trauma Outcomes Study data between 2000 and 2018, excluding centers performing <10 laparotomies/year. Laparotomy was defined using International Classification of Diseases codes, and damage control laparotomy was defined by a code for “reopening of recent laparotomy” or a return to the operating room >4 hours from index laparotomy that was not unplanned. We examined trends over time and by center. Multivariable logistic regression models were developed to predict both damage control laparotomy and mortality, generate observed:expected ratios, and identify outliers for each. We compared risk-adjusted mortality rates to center-level damage control laparotomy rates.


      In total, 18,896 laparotomies from 22 centers were analyzed; 3,549 damage control laparotomies were performed (18.8% of all laparotomies). The use of damage control laparotomy in Pennsylvania varied from 13.9% to 22.8% over time. There was wide variation in center-level use of damage control laparotomy, from 11.1% to 29.4%, despite adjustment. Factors associated with damage control laparotomy included injury severity and admission vital signs. Center identity improved the model as demonstrated by likelihood ratio test (P < .001), suggesting differences in center-level practices. There was minimal correlation between center-level damage control laparotomy use and mortality.


      There is wide center-level variation in the use of damage control laparotomy among centers, despite adjustment for patient factors. Damage control laparotomy is both resource intensive and highly morbid; regional resources should be allocated to address this substantial practice variation to optimize damage control laparotomy use.
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