All posts by TheTraumaPro

A Brief History of the Electronic Health Record

The EHR has been around longer than you think. Even before the current desktop style microcomputers existed, a few hospitals implemented early versions of this product. One of the first was the Latter Day Saints Hospital in Salt Lake City. It installed what it called the HELP system, an acronym for Health Evaluation through Logical Programming.

As computing power increased and the size of the computer box and its cost decreased, a series of advances in medical software systems began to occur. In 1983, a software product geared toward resource scheduling was introduced, and became one of the leading applications of its kind. Most people recognize the name Cadence, but few realize that this was one of the earliest product releases from Epic Systems Corporation.

In 1988, the US government contracted out to develop an electronic record system for the military, much of which is still in use today. On a smaller scale, PC type computers were almost 10 years old in 1990 when Microsoft introduced what I consider the first real version of Windows, version 3.0. Epic was once again an innovator, and it released a product called EpicCare for Windows.

Beginning in 2004, there was a move within the government to emphasize implementation of EHRs across the US, spearheaded by President George W. Bush. And as expected, this led to a number of products developed by a variety of software makers. The push to roll out an EHR universally continues to this day, with no end in sight.

Is this a good thing or a bad one? Although much maligned, the EHR can certainly offer benefits. However, like anything touted as a miracle drug or device, there are always downsides. I’ll review both over the course of the week, but my focus will be on one very specific trauma problem: use of the EHR during trauma resuscitation. Many trauma programs either voluntarily adopted the use of an electronic trauma flow sheet (eTFS), or were forced into it by their hospital administration or IT department. Good idea or not?

We shall see…

Trauma And The Electronic Health Record

I’m going to dedicate this week to discussing the impact of the electronic health record (EHR) on trauma care.

First, I’ll talk a little about the history of the EHR, how it came about and why it was “encouraged” of all hospitals. I’ll also look at who the big players are. Next, I’ll review two studies of the impact of the EHR on ED productivity and patient stay.

And finally, I’ll really dig into using an electronic trauma flow sheet that interfaces with the EHR. My thinking has slowly been changing, but not by much. I’ll review my reasons, and talk about the (few) success stories that are out there.

Stay tuned!

How Much Radiation Exposure In Imaging Studies?

Everyone knows that CT scans deliver more radiation than conventional x-ray. But how much does each test really deliver? And how significant is that?

Let me try to put it all into perspective. First, how much radiation are we exposed to just living outside the hospital? Background radiation is everywhere. It consists of radioactive gases (argon) in the air we breathe, radiation from the rocks and other things around us, and cosmic rays blasting through us from space.

In the United States, the average background radiation each of us is exposed to is about 3.1 milliSieverts (mSv). I’ve compiled a table to show the approximate dose delivered by some of the common radiographic studies ordered by trauma professionals. And to keep it real, I’ve calculated how much extra background radiation we would have to absorb, in units of time, to have an equivalent exposure.

Read and enjoy! Remember, doses may vary by scanner, settings, and dose reduction measures used.

Test Dose (mSv) Equivalent background
Chest x-ray 0.1 10 days
Pelvis x-ray 0.1 10 days
CT head 2 8 months
CT cervical spine 3 1 year
Plain c-spine 0.2 3 weeks
CT chest 7 2 years
CT abdomen/pelvis 10 3 years
CT T&L spine 7 2 years
Plain T&L spine 3 1 year
Millimeter wave
scanner (that hands
in the air TSA thing at
the airport)
0.0001 15 minutes
Scatter from a chest
x-ray in trauma bay
when standing one 
meter from the
0.0002 45 minutes
Scatter from a chest
x-ray in trauma bay
when standing three 
meters from the
0.000022 6 minutes

Cognitive Rest? What Is It?

One of the more commonplace recommendations for recovery from mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) is “cognitive rest.” Sports medicine professionals recommend it, physiatrists recommend it, and trauma professionals talk about it.

First, what is it, exactly? I’ve seen a number of descriptions, and they vary quite a bit. The main concept is to avoid all activities that involve mental exertion. This includes using a computer, watching TV, talking on a cell phone, reading, playing video games, and listening to loud music. Huh?

What good does this allegedly do? Most articles that I’ve read theorize that cognitive activity somehow increases the metabolic activity of the brain and that this is bad. One of the more interesting papers I read (from 2010!) says it best: “It is now well-accepted that excessive neurometabolic activity can interfere with recovery from a concussion and that physical rest is needed.”

Read carefully. Well-accepted. The paper cites unpublished data on children by one of the authors, 2 meta-analyses and 2 consensus opinions. In other words, no data at all. Yet somehow the concept has caught on.

First of all, I don’t think it’s possible for most people to realistically practice cognitive rest. Who knows if there is really any difference in metabolism and energy use by the brain if you are engaging in any of the banned activities above? And let’s go to the other extreme: if one lies quietly in bed meditating, shouldn’t this be the ultimate cognitive rest? Yet fMRI and PET studies suggest (also limited data) that cerebral flow in specific areas of the brain increases during this state.

Maybe a modest increase in activity is good. Physical activity (within limits) has been shown to be very beneficial to physical and psychological well being time and time again. And the only paper I could find on the topic with respect to TBI showed that randomization to bedrest vs normal physical activity had no difference in post-concussive syndrome incidence or severity. However, the active group recovered with significantly less dizziness.

Bottom line: There is no data to support the concept of cognitive rest. Any type of activity, either mental or physical, can cause fatigue in a variable amount of time in people with mild TBI. It is probably best to interpret this as a signal to take it easy and recover for a while before exerting oneself again. But so far there is no objective data to show that cognitive activity either helps or hinders recovery.


  • Cognitive rest: the often neglected aspect of concussion management. Athletic Therapy Today, March 2010, pg 1-3.
  • Effectiveness of bed rest after mild traumatic brain injury: a randomised trial of no versus six days of bed rest. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 73:167-172, 2002.

The ACS “Gang Of 6” Trauma Activation Criteria

For more than 10 years, all trauma centers verified by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) have been required to have a group of mandatory criteria for their highest level of trauma activation. I call these the gang of 6 (ACS-6). They are:

  1. Hypotension (systolic < 90 torr for adults, age specific for children)
  2. Gunshot to neck, chest, abdomen or extremities proximal to elbow or knee
  3. GCS < 9 from trauma
  4. Transfer patients receiving blood to maintain vital signs
  5. Intubated patients from scene or patients with respiratory compromise transferred in (may already be intubated but still having compromise)
  6. Emergency physician discretion

For the most part, it seems obvious that any one of these criteria would indicate a seriously injured patient needing rapid trauma team evaluation. But do all centers use these criteria?

The answer, detailed in a recently published paper, would seem to be no! Researchers at the Universities of Minnesota and Michigan looked at the Trauma Quality Improvement Program database for all Level I and II centers in Michigan over a three year period. They specifically analyzed the data to determine how many centers used all 6 criteria, and any differences in mortality between those that did and those that didn’t. They reviewed records for adults with blunt and penetrating trauma with an ISS > 5.

Here are the factoids:

  • More than 50,000 patient records were reviewed, and 12% met at least one of the ACS-6
  • Only 66% of patients with at least one ACS-6 criterion were full trauma activations (!!)
  • Compliance was poorest with hypotension (only half activated), compared to intubation (75%), central gunshot (75%), and coma (82%)
  • 79% of patients meeting any ACS-6 criterion needed an intervention, with a third going emergently to the OR
  • Undertriaged patients (ACS-6 with no high level activation) were significantly more likely to die (30% vs 21%), and this was most pronounced in the coma group (47% vs 40%)

Bottom line: Physiologic trauma activation criteria are important, as is the central gunshot one! Although this is a database review subject to the usual flaws (retrospective, data accuracy), the numbers are large and the statistics are sound. And remember, this is an association study, so we don’t really know why the mortality numbers were different, just that they were.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to learn from it. Why don’t all centers use the ACS-6? They certainly have them in their criteria list, or they would have failed their verification visit. It’s because of undertriage! How does this happen? Two ways: either the information in the field is incorrect (GCS may be incorrectly estimated, hypotension may be transient), or personnel in the ED failed to activate properly.

This study shows the importance of rigidly adhering to the criteria. It found a 20% mortality reduction if all of the ACS-6 were applied properly. So make sure that your own trauma program regularly monitors for undertriage, especially with respect to the “gang of 6”!

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Reference: Noncompliance with American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma recommended criteria for full trauma team activation is associated with undertriage deaths. J Trauma 84(2):287-294, 2018.