Category Archives: Technology

The Electronic Trauma Flow Sheet: Oops! Now What Are My Options? Part 2

Yesterday, I discussed what to do if your hospital is thinking about switching to an electronic trauma flow sheet (eTFS). Today I’ll give you some tips on what to do if the cat’s already out of the bag and it’s already been implemented.

The number one priority is to show the impact of the eTFS on the trauma program. There are two components:

  1. Accuracy. The trauma program must measure the impact of the “garbage in” phenomenon on the performance improvement (PI) process. This is critically important, because bad data will decrease the quality of your PI analysis. For example, if the PI program is not able to determine that hypotensive patients are being taken to CT scan, patient harms could occur that are not detected. This could result in two bad things for your trauma program (and patients): unanticipated mortality and deficiencies during a verification visit.
    Be on the lookout for extraneous or impossible data points. Keep a list of information that is consistently missing. Use all of this information work with your hospital administration to find ways to make it better.
  2. Efficiency.  Your program must also find a way to measure the efficiency of abstraction by the trauma program manager, PI coordinator, registrars, or whoever is tasked with doing it. Keep track of the time needed to abstract a trauma activation chart vs a non-activation. This will give you an idea of the extra time needed to process the eTFS data. Or just clock in when starting eTFS abstraction, and clock out when finished. The amount of time will probably astonish you.
    Monitor average days to completion of registry entries, and look at the number of cases not fully abstracted by 60 days to see if there is a noticeable impact on your registry concurrency. Delays here are common in centers with high volumes of trauma activations, because the abstractors must spend an inordinate amount of time trying to pull information from the eTFS.

Once your hospital has taken the plunge and adopted the eTFS, it is very difficult to go back. Many centers are convinced that “this next update is going to make it so much better.” It never does! I have visited programs that have been tweaking their processes and reports for almost 8 years! None have been able to improve it significantly.

Your hospital administration will ultimately need to decide how to proceed, depending on how damaging the eTFS is to the trauma PI program and how much it will cost to continue to tweak it vs returning to a paper flow sheet. Good luck!

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The Electronic Trauma Flow Sheet: Oops! Now What Are My Options? Part 1

I’ve spent the last few days showing you the major problems inherent in using an electronic trauma flow sheet (eTFS). It boils down to Garbage In / Garbage Out and time.  It costs a lot of money, and weakens the otherwise strong trauma performance improvement process.

Here’s the real bottom line:

” A hospital using an electronic trauma flow sheet is paying a lot of money for a product that forces them to pay even more money for people to essentially transcribe inaccurate data back onto a paper trauma flow sheet.”

So what can be done about it? That depends on whether the eTFS has already been implemented. Today, I’ll discuss what to do if it’s still in the planning stages.

You’ve just heard that your hospital is considering switching to an eTFS. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Warn everyone you can, loudly! Use all of the ammunition you’ve read about here. Talk to your administrative contacts. Ultimately, your CEO needs to hear the concerns.
  2. Visit another hospital with similar trauma volumes using the same eTFS. Don’t just call them up and ask how it’s going. Actually go and visit, and watch during an actual trauma activation. How is the scribe doing? Can they keep up? Is there a “cheat sheet?” Then talk to the people who abstract the eTFS data. Ask how long it takes compared to the old days of paper.
  3. Consider a test implementation, and have two scribes, one using the eTFS and one using a paper sheet. After each trauma activation, objectively compare scribe performance, accuracy, and completeness. The eTFS cannot be allowed until they are equivalent (which I have never seen).
  4. During the test implementation, have two abstractors analyze the data, one using the eTFS and one using the paper sheet. How long does it take to find all pertinent demographics, sign-in times, primary survey, secondary survey/exam, procedures, vital signs flow, fluids & IVs, I&O? Was the patient hypotensive? What activities occurred during those times: procedures, drugs, CT scan? The eTFS cannot be allowed until they are equivalent (which I have also never seen).
  5. Continue to work with your hospital administration, showing them this data. Hopefully they will see the light and abandon this “great idea.”

But what if they don’t? Or what if you’ve walked into a program that is already using it? I’ll discuss that tomorrow.

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The Electronic Trauma Flow Sheet: What Does(n’t) Work – Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about how the electronic trauma flow sheet (eTFS) practically assures a garbage in situation. Today, I’ll dig into what happens on the back end, and how it creates a garbage out situation.

There are two ways to view the eTFS on the back end (abstraction phase): read a paper report or view it live in the electronic health record (EHR). Let’s look at each:

  • Paper report. Anyone who has actually generated one of these can tell you that it’s a disaster! Reams of paper, typically 20-30 pages. Hundreds of “chronological” entries. Inclusion of extraneous information from later in the hospital stay. Difficult to understand. Hard to pick out the true “signal” due to all the “noise!” And it doesn’t matter how customized the report is, it will always fail on these issues.
  • Live EHR. Your abstractor (registrar, PI coordinator, trauma program manager) logs in and pulls up the screen(s) containing the eTFS. Once again, they need to mouse and keyboard around, looking for the specific things they are interested in. Piece by piece, they try to assemble a human-understandable picture of what happened. But since it’s not chronological across all activities in this view, it can be very challenging.
  • Both. And then there’s the issue of Garbage In I discussed yesterday. Conflicting patient arrival times. Lack of accurate team arrival documentation. Vital signs and IV infusions recorded after patient expiration or discharge. No massive transfusion start time. Inaccurate data from the scribe’s “cheat sheet.”

The final result of all of the shortcomings listed above is this: it increases trauma flow sheet abstraction time by three-fold or more! If you are a trauma center with a two tier trauma activation system, you probably have a lot of TTAs. Therefore, it takes a lot of time to abstract all those flow sheets. Which ultimately means that you (this really means your hospital) will have to pay for more registrars / PI coordinators / nurses!

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that the eTFS is not a great way to go. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss strategies to use if your hospital is “considering” moving to an eTFS. And Friday, I’ll wrap up with what to do if you’ve already been burdened with it.

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The Electronic Trauma Flow Sheet: What Does(n’t) Work – Part 1

There are two major problem areas using an electronic trauma flow sheet (eTFS): the front end and the back end. Today, I’ll discuss the front end data entry problems.

Trauma activations are very data intensive events. Beginning prior to patient arrival, there are registration activities so the electronic health record (EHR) can begin accepting other information about the patient. Once they arrive, there is a continuous stream of information regarding observations, actions, results, medications, fluid, blood, and much more. All of these occur during a relatively brief period of time. Some are simultaneous.

This stream of information continues after the patient leaves the trauma bay for CT, imaging, interventional radiology, operating room, ICU, or ward bed. The flow sheet scribe is charged with recording all of this information as contemporaneously as possible. This ensures accuracy of the data, particularly with events that occurred at the same time.

But there is a major difference in input between the paper trauma flow sheet and the eTFS. The paper sheet is typically a three or four page form that is laid out in front of the scribe. All of the data blocks are readily visible, and are grouped in logical clusters: prehospital information here, primary survey data there, procedures in that one, vitals and narrative there.

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple with the eTFS. The scribe can view whatever content fits on a single screen. And it is just not possible to display all of the needed info on that one screen. The software developers addressed this problem by creating multiple screens that can be accessed by clicking on various tabs or buttons. The problem is that the human cannot see where the blocks are and must be very familiar with the tabs and buttons. And to make it worse, they must shift between mouse click and keyboard to move between them and record data.

This results in a stream of input that can’t be recorded quickly enough to stay current. It is very common to see a “cheat sheet” next to the input terminal so the scribe can add quick handwritten notes when they get behind. This information is entered later, but as you may imagine, accuracy suffers. It is very common to see events or results that do not fit the timeline. Once this occurs, the entire record is suspect and will not represent the true flow of the resuscitation. And what about events that occur during patient transport, between computer workstations?

The difficulty of entering trauma resuscitation information in true real time results in a Garbage In situation. Tomorrow, I’ll continue with problems on the back end that can result in Garbage Out.


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The Electronic Trauma Flow Sheet: Why Hospitals Want You To Switch

Today, I’ll kick off my series on use of the electronic trauma flow sheet (eTFS) with a list of the typical reasons used to justify it. 

Typically, hospital administrators pressure trauma programs to adopt an eTFS at some point after implementation of an electronic health record (EHR). For the most part, they give two reasons:

  1. We need to go paperless! The assumption is that all of the rest of the charting will be electronic, so the trauma flow sheet should be moved to this format as well.
    The reality is that there will always be some good, old-fashioned paper parts to the patient’s chart. Every hospital ward has a little cubby with some old-timey three ring binders for putting the scraps of paper that accumulate. These may be records from an outside referring hospital, a pre-hospital run sheet, blood bank tags from units of blood products, and other stuff. What typically happens to it? It gets scanned into the chart at some point. 
    So there is no reason that a paper trauma flow sheet can’t be scanned as well. The key move is that it should be scanned early so that it is available in the EHR as soon as it is complete.
  2. We need to see patient flow, vitals, meds, etc from the time they hit the door. We don’t want to miss the activity that occurs in the trauma bay, right?
    The care typically received in the trauma bay is what I would consider a singularity. It is like nothing else in the hospital stay in terms of pace, intensity, and level of activity. Being able to trend medication or blood administration from arrival through discharge is not that important. Vital signs during resuscitation may be nothing like those of the rest of the hospital stay. It’s just not that helpful to be able to connect that phase of care with the rest of it.
    But having said that, it may be helpful to be able to see all of the medications given during a hospital stay. Ideally, someone should go back and reconcile the medications after the fact. A pharmacist, perhaps?

Neither of these excuses really hold any water, so don’t get talked into trying out an eTFS because of them.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about why the eTFS doesn’t work during the trauma resuscitation phase of care.

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