Trauma Activation For Hanging: Yes or No?

In my last post, I discussed a little-reviewed topic, that of strangulation. I recommended activating your trauma team only for patients who met the physiologic criteria for it.

But now, what about hangings? There are basically two types. The judicial hanging is something most of you will never see. This is a precisely carried out technique for execution and involves falling a certain height while a professionally fashioned noose arrests the fall. This results in a fairly predictable set of cervical spine/cord, airway, and vascular injuries. Death is rapid.

Suicidal hangings are far different. They involve some type of ligature around the neck, but rarely and fall. This causes slow asphyxiation and death, sometimes. The literature dealing with near hangings is a potpourri of case reports, speculation, and very few actual studies. So once again, we are left with little guidance.

What type of workup should occur? Does the trauma team need to be called? A very busy Level I trauma center reviewed their registry for adult near-hangings over a 19 year period. Hanging was strictly defined as a ligature around the neck with only the body weight for suspension. A total of 125 patients were analyzed, and were grouped into patients presenting with a normal GCS (15), and those who were abnormal (<15).

Here are the factoids:

  • Two thirds of patients presented with normal GCS, and one third were impaired
  • Most occurred at home (64%), and jail hangings occurred in 6%
  • Only 13% actually fell some distance before the ligature tightened
  • If there was no fall, 32% had full weight on the ligature, 28% had no weight on it,  and 40% had partial weight
  • Patients with decreased GCS tended to have full weight on suspension (76%), were much more likely to be intubated prior to arrival (83% vs 0% for GCS 15), had loss of consciousness (77% vs 35%) and had dysphonia and/or dysphagia (30% vs 8%)
  • Other than a ligature mark, physical findings were rare, especially in the normal GCS group. Subq air was found in only 12% and stridor in 18%.
  • No patients had physical findings associated with vascular injury (thrill, bruit)
  • Injuries were only found in 4 patients: 1 cervical spine fracture, 2 vascular injuries, and 1 pneumothorax
  • 10 patients died and 8 suffered permanent disability, all in the low GCS group

Bottom line: It is obvious that patients with normal GCS after attempted hanging are very different from those who are impaired. The authors developed an algorithm based on the initial GCS, which I agree with. Here is what I recommend:

  • Do not activate the trauma team, even for low GCS. This mechanism seldom produces injuries that require any surgical specialist. This is an exception to the usual GCS criterion.
  • The emergency physician should direct the initial diagnosis and management. This includes airway, selection of imaging, and directing disposition. A good physical exam, including auscultation (remember that?) is essential.
  • Patients with normal GCS and minimal neck tenderness or other symptoms do not need imaging of any kind.
  • Patients with abnormal GCS should undergo CT scanning, consisting of a CT angiogram of the neck and brain with soft tissue images of the neck and cervical spine recons.
  • Based on final diagnoses, the patient can be admitted to an appropriate medical service or mental health. In the very rare case of a spine, airway, or vascular injury, the appropriate service can be consulted.

Reference: A case for less workup in near hanging. J Trauma 81(5):925-930, 2016.

Trauma Activation For Strangulation: Yes or No?

I received a request to discuss this topic from a reader in Salina, KS. Thanks!

Trauma activation criteria generally fall into four broad categories: physiology, anatomy, mechanism of injury, and co-factors. Of these, the first two are the best predictors of patients who actually need to be assessed by the full trauma team. Many trauma centers include a number of mechanistic criteria, usually much to their chagrin. They typically end up with frequent team activations and the patient usually ends up have trivial injuries.

However, there are some mechanisms that just seem like they demand additional attention. Death of another occupant in the vehicle. Fall from a significant height. But what about a patient who has been strangled?

Unfortunately, the published literature gives us little guidance. This usually means that trauma centers will then just do what seems to “make sense.” And unfortunately, this frequently results in significant overtriage, with many patients going home from the emergency department.

Since there is little to know research to show us the way, I’d like to share my thoughts:

  • As a guiding principle, the trauma  team should be activated when the patient will derive significant benefit from it. And the benefit that the team really provides is speed. The team approach results in quicker diagnosis from physical exam and FAST. It gets patients to diagnostic imaging quicker, if appropriate. And gets them to the OR faster when it’s not appropriate to go to CT.
  • Activating for a strangulation mechanism alone is probably a waste of time.
  • Look at the patient’s physiology first. Are the vital signs normal? What is the GCS? If either are abnormal, activate.
  • Then check out the anatomy. If the patient has any voice changes, or has obvious discoloration from bruising, crepitus, or subcutaneous emphysema, call the team. They may suffer a deteriorating airway at any moment.

If physiologic and anatomic findings don’t trigger an activation, then standard evaluation is in order. Here are some things to think about:

  • A complete physical exam is mandatory. This not only includes the neck, but the rest of the body. Strangulation is a common injury from domestic violence, and other injuries are frequently present.
  • If there are any marks on the neck, CT evaluation is required. This includes soft tissue, CT angiography, and cervical spine evaluation. All three can be done with a single contrast-enhanced scan. The incidence of spine injury is extremely low with strangulation, but the spine images are part of the set anyway.
  • CT of the chest is never indicated. There is no possibility of aortic injury with this mechanism, and all the other stuff will show up on the chest x-ray, if significant enough for treatment.
  • Even if there are no abnormalities, your patient may need admission while social services arranges a safe place for their discharge. Don’t forget the social and forensic aspects of this injury. Law enforcement may need photographic evidence or statements from the patient so this event can’t happen again.

Next post: Trauma Activation for Hanging: Yes or No?

Reference: Strangulation forensic examination: best practice for health care providers. Adv Emerg Nurs J 35(4):314-327, 2013.

The Next Generation 3D Bioprinter For Skin

3D printing for medical purposes (bioprinting) continues to evolve, and I’ve written a number of posts on this topic over the past 7 years. Skin bioprinting has been around for some time, but it keeps getting more and more sophisticated. Now, appropriate cell lines for the “ink” tanks can be grown in just a few days, and laid down in layers that are getting closer to real skin.

Take a look at this video to see the state of the art:

The next step: adding hair, being able to print large sheets, and ultimately printing directly onto the body!

Related posts:

Value Of The “Delay To Operating Room” Trauma PI Filter: Part 2

Yesterday, I discussed a paper that tried to show that the “delay to OR” trauma performance improvement (PI) filter was not cost effective. As I mentioned, I’m dubious that the outcomes and information reviewed could realistically demonstrate this.

Today, I’m going to list the parts of the system that this PI filter helps to monitor:

  • Was the patient appropriately triaged as a trauma activation?
  • Was the trauma surgeon called / involved in a timely manner?
  • Was an appropriate physical exam carried out?
  • If needed, was the CT scanner accessible?
  • Did the surgeon make an appropriate clinical decision?
  • If needed, did the backup trauma surgeon arrive in a timely manner?
  • Were there any transport delays to the OR?
  • Was an OR room promptly available?
  • Did the OR backup team arrive within the required time, if needed?
  • Were anesthesia services promptly available?
  • If a failure of nonoperative management occurred:
    • Was the practice guideline followed?
    • Were repeat vitals and physical exam performed and documented?
    • Did any of the other issues listed above occur?

And you may be able to think of even more!

Bottom line: As you can see, this seemingly innocuous filter tests many components within the trauma center. And even if one particular patient who triggers the “delay to OR” filter is lucky enough to escape unharmed, many of the areas listed above can harm other patients who may not trigger it. Actively looking for these issues and fixing them makes your entire trauma program better!

Related post:

Value Of The “Delay to Operating Room” Trauma PI Filter: Part 1

This post is a little longer than usual. However, if you have any interest in trauma PI, I recommend you read it through to the very end.

I’ve written a lot about trauma performance improvement (PI) over the years. As many of you know, good PI is complicated yet necessary to run a trauma center that provides optimal care. There are many areas of trauma care that are scrutinized by the PI program on a daily basis. Some of those items are termed “audit filters”, and consist of specific action criteria. If not met, the filter is triggered and the PI program must investigate it.

One of those time-honored filters is “delay to operating room.” Actually, there are two parts to it. One is “trauma laparotomy > 4 hours after patient arrival.” And the other is “trauma laparotomy > 1 hour after patient arrival if hypotensive.”

A paper was recently published questioning the value of the first filter. The contention is that it takes time and money for someone (trauma registrar, nurses, or APPs) to recognize and record the violation, and more time for the trauma program manager, trauma medical director, and Trauma PI Committee to analyze and discuss.

The authors were concerned that this time and money may be mis-spent if the filter violation doesn’t have any real impact on clinical care and outcomes. They looked at 9 years of registry and PI data on initial trauma laparotomies (not reoperations) at their Level I center. They specifically compared the incidence of mortality, complications, and identification of opportunities for improvement in the PI program.

Here are the factoids:

  • 472 patients underwent primary trauma laparotomy during the study, and 23% were flagged as delay to OR (!)
  • There was no difference in mortality or complications between delayed and non-delayed patients
  • There was a trend toward longer hospital length of stay in the delay group (p=0.05)
  • Transfer to a higher level of care was significantly higher (7%) in the delayed patients vs non-delayed (2%).  The authors do not explain this further, although it usually means an unanticipated transfer from ward to ICU.
  • Other audit filters were triggered significantly more often in the delay group, including failed nonoperative management of spleen or liver, delay in diagnosis, and delay in presentation
  • There were significant differences in which surgeons experienced delay to OR, although the incidence of complications was not different

Bottom line: The authors interpret this information one way, and state their belief that these types of filters may no longer be relevant at well-established trauma centers. However, I disagree!

Here is my rationale:

  • The study assumes that deaths, complications, and the presence of identified opportunities for improvement are sensitive enough outcomes. They are not. Hospital length of stay is the only measure that the authors examined that might be related, and it was very close to being significantly higher. And in this day and age of team care, it’s very difficult to say exactly who or what did or did not produce a complication.
  • It also assumes that the adverse outcome would only occur to the involved patient. What if an OR scheduling problem occurred in the audited case, but the patient’s injuries were not severe enough that there was any impact? But the next patient was more severely injured, and the same type of OR scheduling delay occurred. And in this case, significant and severe complications occurred even though they made it into the room in 3 hours and 45 minutes. System problems can hurt other patients, too!
  • The entire study is based on the assumption that the trauma center’s trauma PI program was very effective during the study period. Yet a delay to OR occurred in nearly a quarter of all cases. This is higher than most other centers. It is notoriously difficult to get a sense of how strong the PI program is, other than via verification visits.
  • It also suggests that some practice guidelines either need to be implemented or updated. The “delay to OR” filter was associated with other audit filter violations, especially with failure in nonop management of solid organs and diagnosis delay. Was the approach to liver/spleen management and diagnostic imaging consistent and effective?
  • The differences in delay to OR among the surgeons (range 12-38%) is also unusual. These high and variable numbers suggest the need for further analysis of their cases and performance.

This illustrates my request that you always read the paper, not just the title and conclusion, and think hard about it. I believe that the authors have shown that use of this PI audit filter didn’t make a difference in the outcomes they measured. However, I don’t think they looked at all the right ones. 

My experience has been that this filter is extremely valuable in identifying and fixing system problems. Tomorrow, I’ll provide a list of (nearly) everything that it can measure, and add a few more comments. Click here to read it.

Related posts:

Reference: “Delay to operating room: fails to identify adverse outcomes at a Level I trauma center. J Trauma 82(2):334-337, 2017.