Trauma surgeons often rely on consultants to assist in the care of their patients. Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons are some of the more frequent consultants, but a variety of other surgical and medical specialists may be needed. I have found that providing a set of guidelines to consultants helps to ensure quality care and provide good communication between caregivers and patients / families.
We have disseminated a set of guidelines to our colleagues, and I wanted to touch on some of the main points. You can download the full document using the link at the bottom of this post.
In order to deliver the highest quality and most cost-effective care, we request that services we consult do the following:
- Please introduce yourself to our patient and their family, and explain why you are seeing them.
- Although you may discuss your findings with the patient, please discuss all recommendations with a member of the trauma service first. This avoids patient confusion if the trauma team chooses not to implement any recommendations due to other patient factors you may not be aware of.
- Document your consultation results in writing (paper or EMR) in a timely manner.
- If additional tests, imaging or medications are recommended, discuss with the trauma service first. We will write the orders or clear you to do so if appropriate, and will discuss the plan with the patient.
- We round at specific times every day and welcome your attendance and input.
- Please communicate any post-discharge instructions to us or enter in the medical record so we can expedite the discharge process and ensure all followup visits are scheduled.
Bottom line: A uniform “code of behavior” is important! Ensuring good patient communication is paramount. They need to hear the same plans from all of their caregivers or else they will lose faith in us. One of the most important lessons I have learned over the years is that you do not need to implement every recommendation that a consultant makes. They may not be aware of the most current trauma literature, and they will not be familiar with how their recommendations may impact other injuries.
Click here to download the full copy of the Regions Hospital Trauma Services consultant guidelines.
I know this has happened to most of you at one point or another:
One of your trauma patients sustains an injury outside of your area of expertise. You engage a consultant to evaluate that condition and manage it. They do so, and it requires some type of invasive procedure. They return from the procedure, and as you are rounding on the patient, you find the consultant has ordered a medication that you have not seen ordered for that procedure before.
What would you do? You are now in an interesting place. Do you discontinue the order? Call up the consultant and ask, what the heck? Might you poison your relationship with them in the process? And what is the impact on your patient?
Lots of questions, but here is what I recommend:
- Hit the lit! Always assume that they might know something you don’t. They are an expert in their field for a reason, so give them the benefit of the doubt. Thoroughly review the literature to see if this is an approved new practice. But remember, a single interesting paper should never be enough to change your (or their) practice. There needs to be a sufficient body of literature showing that the practice is sound.
- Talk to the consultant. Now that you are armed with the current thinking, ask them what they were thinking! Let them explain their rationale. Since you have already looked at the available data, you will be able to ask appropriate questions and deflect answers like, “well that’s how we did it where I trained.”
- Change the orders. Assuming the order was not sound, it’s time to undo the ones that started this entire debate. Get rid of them now so you’re not stepping on any toes. However, if you believed that the order/medication would have been potentially harmful, don’t wait. You should have done it even before the first step!
- Disseminate the info. Make sure that all of your partners are aware of the issue and the correct course of action (or orders). And send a note to the consultant group summarizing the discussion so none of your consultant’s partners make the same mistake again.
Tomorrow, a set of guidelines to give all of your consultants to make sure they behave appropriately and interface will with the trauma service.
What are common sources of malpractice complaints against nurses? The most common event is medication error. Most people worry about common errors like wrong dose, wrong drug, and wrong route of administration. But one less commonly considered drug-related responsibility is assessment for side effects and toxicity of medications administered.
Other common reasons include failure to adequately monitor and assess the patient, and failure to supervise a patient that results in harm. Significant changes in patient condition must be reported to the responsible physician. However, doing so does not necessarily get the nurse off the hook. If the physician’s response leads the nurse to believe that they have misdiagnosed the problem or are prescribing an incorrect drug or course of action, the nurse is obligated to follow the chain of command to notify a nursing supervisor or other physician of the event.
And finally, one of the most common issues complicating malpractice cases of any kind is documentation. Lawsuits must typically be filed within two years of the event that caused harm. Once that occurs though, several more years may pass before significant action occurs. Collection and review of documentation, identification of experts, and collection of depositions takes time. And unfortunately, our memories are imperfect after many years go by. Good documentation is paramount! “Work not documented is work not done,” I always say. And poor documentation allows attorneys to make your good work look as bad as they want and need it to.
Reference: Examining Nursing Malpractice: A Defense Attorney’s Perspective. Critical Care Nursing 23(2):104-107, 2003.
Back in the old, old days, there was really no such thing as nursing malpractice. Nurses had little true responsibility, and liability largely fell to the treating physicians. But as nursing responsibilities have grown, they have become an integral part of the assessment, planning, and management of their patients.
As all trauma professionals know, our work is very complex. And unfortunately, our understanding of how the human body works and responds to injury is still incomplete. So unfortunately, undesirable things happen from time to time.
But does every little adverse event or complication mean that someone is at fault? Or that they can/should be sued? Fortunately, the answer is no.
The law is complex, at least to professionals outside the legal field. Following are the basics of malpractice as it relates to nurses.
There are four elements that must be present for a malpractice case to be brought forward:
- The nurse must have established a nurse-patient relationship. Documentation provided by the nurse or other providers in the medical record must demonstrate that they were in some way involved in care of the patient.
- A scope of duty must be established within the relationship. For example, an ICU nurse will have duties relating to examining the patient, recording vital signs, reporting significant events to physicians, etc. The exact duties may vary somewhat geographically and even between individual hospitals. Written policies help to clarify some of these duties, but often, experts are required to testify to what the usual standards of care are when not covered by policy.
- There must be a departure from what is called “good and accepted practice.” The definition of this leaves a lot of wiggle room. It is defined as the care that an ordinarily prudent nurse would have provided in the given situation. It does not need to be the optimum or best care. And if there is more than one approved choice, a nurse is not negligent if they choose either of them, even if it later turns out to be a poorer choice.
- Finally, there must be a cause-effect relationship between the nurse’s action and the patient’s alleged injury. This linkage must be more than a possibility, it must be highly probable. For example, wound infections occur after a given percentage of operations, and it varies based on the wound classification. It’s a tough sell to bring suit for improper dressing care in a grossly contaminated wound that is likely to become infected anyway. Typically, expert witnesses must attest to the fact that the patient was, more likely than not, harmed by the nurse’s action or inaction.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part 2!
Yesterday, I wrote about the accepted management of and delay in flying due to traumatic pneumothorax. I republished the post because of the very recent acceptance for publication of a paper from Oregon Health Science University in Portland. The authors specifically tried to assess timing of chest tube removal and long-distance flight, and to measure the risk of pneumothorax recurrence or other complications.
The authors performed a retrospective review of a series of military patients who had sustained chest injuries that were treated with chest tubes over a 5 year period from 2008 to 2012. After tube removal and a pneumothorax-free period of at least 24 hours (by chest x-ray), the patients were then transported by air from the military theater back to the United States.
Here are the factoids:
- Of 517 patients screened in the military trauma registry database, only 73 were available for study after applying exclusion criteria
- Subjects were predominantly young and male, as one would expect from the injured military population, and 74% were injured by a penetrating mechanism
- Median time that the chest tube was in place was 4 days, and median time from tube removal to flight was 2.5 days
- All patients had post-flight documentation available for review, but only half (37) had in-flight documentation available
- Nearly half (40%) had positive pressure ventilation in place during the flight
- Five patients had “in-flight medical concerns” (4 were ventilated), but none were related to the pneumothorax. The four ventilated patients had ventilator issues, the non-vented patient had “self-limited discomfort without evidence of respiratory distress.”
- None of the subjects developed a recurrent pneumothorax, either post-flight or over the following 30 days
The authors conclude that air travel after tube removal and a 24-72 hour observation period “appears safe.”
Bottom line: Not so fast! This is yet another small, retrospective study making grand claims. The study group is a very unique population: healthy, fit young men with penetrating injury. Your average civilian trauma patient is older, less healthy, and usually has a blunt mechanism with multiple rib fractures. In-flight documentation was not available in half of the cases. And a full medical team was present on the aircraft had a problem actually occurred.
Contrast this with a civilian patient on a commercial aircraft with very limited medical equipment and expertise on board. What could go wrong? I definitely do not recommend changing our practice on these patients yet based on this one paper. Until we have better guidance (more good papers) stick to the usual wait time to ensure a safe flight for your patient.
Reference: Trauma patients are safe to fly 72 hours after tube thoracostomy removal. J Trauma, published ahead of print, May 18 2018.