When Does The PI Clock Start Ticking? The Answer, Part 1!

In my last post, I presented two potential performance improvement (PI) cases. I asked for your input as to when the clock should actually start for the 4-hour craniotomy/craniectomy rule. Today, I’ll give you my answer to the first case.

Lets look at it again:

A young male is involved in a motor vehicle crash and strikes his head. He enters your trauma center at exactly midnight as a trauma activation. Head CT shows a 12mm epidural hematoma with 8mm midline shift and ventricular effacement. GCS was 14 on arrival, but has declined to 12 by the time you leave the CT scanner. He is taken to the OR for craniotomy by neurosurgery at 4:15.

This one looks straightforward, right? But not so fast. The crani occurred more than 4 hours after arrival. Isn’t that a violation of the 4 hour filter? But did you know he needed an operation when he arrived in the ED? No! GCS and exam were reasonable, so the clock starts once the CT scan finishes, even if the surgeon doesn’t see them at that time. Why then? because the 4 hour rule is testing all of the following:

  • Whether a physician was present in CT and recognized what was on the images (not required, but reviewed if there was one there)
  • How long it takes for the radiologist to get the images
  • How long it takes for the report to be done
  • How quickly the surgeon or emergency physician review the report
  • How long it takes to contact the neurosurgeon
  • How long it takes them to see the patient and decide they need an operation
  • How easy it is to get this emergency case to the OR suite
  • How long it takes for anesthesia to do their assessment and get the patient into the room
  • How long it takes the OR team to be ready to cut

Lots of stuff! So if the scan finished any later than 12:15 am, this filter gets triggered. But hold on! In my opinion, 4 hours is a long time to wait for an emergent problem like this large epidural. Even if the scan finished at 12:30, the 4 hour rule is met, but why did it take so long to get the operation started? I’ve seen cases like this where the incision was started less than an hour after the patient arrived in the trauma bay!  Some of these cases need review even if they appear to meet the time limits.

Bottom line: Case #1 – the clock officially starts when the proof of clinical injury has been provided. This could be an abnormal physical exam, a CT scan, a critical lab test draw, a phone call from a concerned nurse, etc. The clock doesn’t necessarily start when the patient rolls in the door, unless you have some kind of weird superpowers!

I’ll review and analyze the second case tomorrow.

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