Category Archives: Trauma Center

The Electronic Trauma Flow Sheet – Final Answer

After more than 10 years of experience, moving to an electronic trauma flow sheet is still not ready for prime time. I’ve seen many, many hospitals struggling to make it work. And all but a very few have failed.

There are two major problems. First, existing computer input technology is underdeveloped. Trying to rapidly put information into small windows on a computer, and having to switch between mouse and keyboard and back is just too slow. And second, output reports are terrible. Humans cannot scan 26 pages of chronological data and reconstruct a trauma activation in their head. There is so much extra data in the typical computer-generated reports, the signal (potential PI issues) gets lost in the noise.

The technology exists to remedy both of the problems. However, the EHR vendors keep tight control over data exchange in and out of their products. Sure, there is CareAnywhere and it’s ilk, but the user is still forced to use the vendor’s flawed input and output systems.

Bottom line: You can’t make a complex system (trauma care) easier or safer by adding complexity (the EHR). Yet.

The electronic trauma flow sheet will never work as well as it could until all the vendors settle on a strong data interchange standard to put data into and get reports out of the EHR. Once that happens, scores of startup companies will start to design easy input systems and report outputs or displays that are actually meaningful. There’s not enough interest in this niche market to make it worthwhile for a company the size of Epic or McKesson, but there is definitely enough for a lot of young companies just chomping at the bit in Silicon Valley.

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The Electronic Trauma Flow Sheet – Part 1

I started voicing my concerns about trying to use an electronic trauma flow sheet (eTFS) way back in 2008. There are very few reports in the literature that specifically detail using the EHR as a trauma flow sheet. The first (see reference 1 below) described an early experience with the conversion process. It outlines lessons learned during one center’s experience, and I’ve not seen any published followup from that center.

Now, on to a report of a “positive” experience. A Level I pediatric trauma center made the same change to the eTFS. They designed a custom menu-driven electronic documentation system, once again using Epic. Specific nurses were trained to act as the

electronic scribe, and had to be present at every trauma resuscitation. The goal of the study was to compare completion rates between paper and electronic documentation. One year of experience with each was collected.

Here are the factoids:

  • There were about 200 trauma activations each year that were admitted, and only 50 or so were highest level activations (in a year!)
  • 11 data elements were compared, including treatments prior to arrival, vitals, fluids, primary survey, level and time of activation, patient and surgeon arrival, and disposition
  • The eTFS was better at capturing time of activation, primary survey components, attending arrival time, and fluid administration

Yes. That’s it. They looked at 11 data points. It says nothing about the wealth of other information that has to be recorded and needs to be abstracted or analyzed. And nothing about the reports generated and their utility. Or how much additional time must be spent by the trauma PI program to figure out what really happened. Or how good their paper documentation was in the first place (not so good, apparently). Or the bias of knowing that your documentation under Epic is being scrutinized for the study.

And to get to that level, this hospital had to maintain a complement of highly trained nurses who were facile with their customized Epic trauma narrator. And they had to maintain their skills despite seeing only one highest level trauma activation patient per week, or one activation at any level only every other day.

I’ve had a few discussions with the trauma program manager from this hospital, and I am convinced that they have managed to make it work well at their center. However, I’m not certain that their system can be generalized to hospitals with higher volumes and and degree of staffing restraints.

In my final post of this series, I’ll tell you what I really think about using the electronic trauma flow sheet in your trauma resuscitations, and why.

References:

  1. Using the electronic medical record for trauma resuscitations: is it possible? J Emerg Nursing 36(4):381-384, 2010.
  2. A comparison of paper documentation to electronic documentation for trauma resuscitations at a Level I pediatric trauma center. J Emerg Nursing 41(1):52-56, 2015.
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Trauma Patient Stay In The ED After Implementing an Electronic Health Record

So as we discovered, we may spend less time and see fewer patients if we use an EHR. One would think that ED length of stay (LOS) would then increase. But does it?

A 2 year observational study from Greece looked at ED throughput before and after implementation of an electronic trauma documentation system. A total of 101 trauma patients were processed under the paper charting system, and 99 were handled after implementation of the electronic system.

Here are the factoids:

  • Injury severity was high overall, with half going for emergent surgery and an overall mortality rate of about 12%
  • Total ED LOS decreased from 206 to 127 minutes with the EHR
  • This was accomplished by decreasing time between arrival and completion of care from 149 to 100 minutes, and from completion of care to leaving the ED from 47 to 26 minutes

Bottom line: Looks great! Badly hurt patients, moving through the ED at breakneck speed after implementation of an EHR. The problem is that it was not really an EHR, but an “electronic documentation system.” Upon close inspection, this is a homegrown system with very specific functionality for monitoring care, providing checklists, and offering case-specific guidance. This is not the type of complex documentation system one usually thinks of when visualizing an EHR. But it does go to show that well-designed and focused software can be beneficial.

Tomorrow, I’ll start to focus specifically on the electronic trauma flow sheet (eTFS).

Reference: The effect of an electronic documentation system on the trauma patient’s length of stay in an emergency department. J Emerg Nursing 40(5)469-475, 2014.

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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…

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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”!

Related posts:

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.

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