When Does The PI Clock Start Ticking? The Answer, Part 2!

I analyzed the first of two PI clock scenarios in my last post. They are not always as obvious as they seem. Now let’s look at the second case:

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 7mm epidural hematoma with no shift and no effacement. GCS is 15, and the neurologic exam is completely normal. He is admitted to the SICU for neuro monitoring and is scheduled to have a repeat CT scan at 06:00. The scan shows significant expansion of the hematoma, with midline shift and ventricular effacement. He is taken to the OR for craniotomy by neurosurgery at 6:55.

This one is very similar to the first, except there is no indication to go to the OR at initial presentation. But about 7 hours later, he is in the operating room. So the PI trigger occurs, right? That’s more than 4 hours!

Not so fast! Let’s analyze this a bit more. Everything seems to be going well until the 6 AM CT scan. If the patient’s condition is unchanged, the earliest possible time the change in his head could have been recognized was shortly after 6:00. So the patient was actually in the OR less than an hour after the problem was recognized, right?

Not quite so fast again. The trauma PI program still has to examine the entire process from arrival until operation. Here are the questions that need to be answered:

  • Was neurosurgery involved in the initial evaluation in a timely manner?
  • Was the patient admitted to an appropriate inpatient unit?
  • Did appropriate monitoring occur?
  • Did any change in exam occur that could have suggested the hematoma was changing?
  • If so, did nursing and physician staff act appropriately with that information?

Bottom line: If everything went according to plan, and there was no change in exam or vital signs through the repeat CT scan, then this is an exemplary catch, and instead of sending the usual trauma PI nasty-gram to neurosurgery, they should receive a congratulatory note for providing such excellent service!

All too often, the trauma program just routinely sends out these “nasty-grams” without doing any further analysis of the data. And in cases like this one, the work involved in responding is just a waste of time. 

General rule: If the actual time noted for one of these time-sensitive filters is very, very long (e.g. delay to laparotomy of 62 hours), then look at it very closely. Did someone actually sit on a bleeding spleen for nearly three days, of was the patient doing well and suddenly failed nonoperative management? I think you know the answer.

And don’t forget to send out a few love letters to the other services for work well done from time to time! They probably cringe when they see trauma PI notes, since they always seem to imply something bad has happened.

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