The scenario involved an elderly woman who fell from standing at her care facility 12 hours earlier. They want to send her to your trauma center for evaluation because she seems a bit different from her baseline. You have well defined practice guidelines for patients with head injuries that dictate what type of monitoring and diagnostics they receive.
What do you need to know to determine what you should do? Thanks for all of you who sent in suggestions.
Here are my thoughts:
Which scans should she get? Usually, you would obtain an initial head CT and, due to her age, a cervical CT regardless of her physical exam due to the high miss rate in these patients. But now the fun begins. Your subarachdoid / intraparenchymal hemorrhage (IPH) practice guideline would have you admit for neurologic monitoring for 12 hours, obtain a TBI screen, then discharge without a followup scan if the screen was passed. But in this case, the clock started 12 hours ago and the guideline would be finished with the exception of the TBI screen. So an initial scan and a TBI screen in the ED are all that are needed. The observation period is already over and the patient could potentially be discharged from ED if a SAH or IPH were found.
Your subdural guideline mandates all of the above plus a repeat scan at 12 hours. But once again, the clock has already started. Do you just get an initial scan, which also serves as the 12 hour scan? Or do you get yet another one? If the neuro exam is normal, I vote for the former, and your evaluation is complete after the TBI screen. If the neuro exam is not quite normal, then admission for continuing exams and a repeat scan are in order.
Does the patient need to be admitted, and for how long? Hopefully, you’ve figure this out in the previous bullet. The clock started running when she fell down, so in cases where the physical exam is normal, only the first CT is needed and ongoing monitoring is not. Thus, she could return to her care facility from the ED after the scan.
What other important information do you need to know? Of paramount importance is her DNR status and her/her family’s willingness to have brain surgery if a significant lesion is identified. It is extremely important to know the latter item. If there is never any patient or family intent to proceed to surgery, is there any point to obtaining scans at all? In my opinion, no. The whole reason to obtain the scan and monitor is to potentially “do something.” But if the patient and/or family will not let us “do something,” there is no reason to do any of this. It is crucial that the patient and family understand the typical outcomes from surgery given her age and degree of frailty. This is most important in patients who are impaired with dementia or a high-grade lesion if found from which there is minimal chance of recovery. In most such cases, even if surgery is “successful,” the patient will never recover enough to return to their prior level of care. This should be weighed heavily by the family and care providers.
Should a patient with DNR or “no surgery” orders even be sent to the ED? Theoretically, no. There is no need from the standpoint of their future care. They are not really eligible to have any studies or monitoring done. However, the facility may try to insist for their own liability issues, but this is not really a valid clinical reason.
I hope you enjoyed this little philosophical discussion. Feel free to agree/disagree through your comments or tweets!
Here are some philosophical musings to keep you thinking over the weekend.
You are the trauma surgeon on duty one evening, and you receive a call from the emergency department. They have received a mildly demented elderly woman who fell at her nursing home 12 hours ago. The staff believes that her mental status is slightly “off” from what it usually is.
Your trauma program has a well-defined practice guideline for elderly TBI care (not on anticoagulants) that involves an initial CT scan, and then a repeat scan after another 12 hours if anything but a simple subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) is present. For just SAH, only serial neuro checks are performed for 12 hours and a TBI screen is performed prior to discharge.
Here are my questions for you:
What scan(s) do you need to perform given that 12 hours have already passed since her injury?
Does the patient need to be admitted? For how long?
What other important information do you need to know?
Should the patient have been sent to the ED at all?
I am very interested in your input on these questions. I’ll discuss them in detail in my next post. Please leave comments below, tweet, or email your responses and I’ll see how much we think alike. Or not!
Contrast extravasation after major trauma can be very problematic. Extravasation into a solid organ (liver, spleen) generally requires a quick trip to interventional radiology or the operating room. Bleeding from the bowel mesentery assures an exploratory laparotomy. Gluteal vessel extravasation is best treated with angioembolization.
But what about extravasation from off the beaten path areas like the psoas muscle? This is an uncommon finding on trauma CT, so less is known about the usual clinical course. A group in Okayama Japan performed a 10-year retrospective review of data from their hospital. They reviewed hematoma size, associated injuries, and the relationship to treatment options.
Here are the factoids:
762 contrast CTs were performed due to blunt trauma over the 10 year period (only 76 per year?!)
About 15% (117 patients) had either lumbar process fracture or psoas hematoma, and about one quarter had obvious contrast extravasation into the muscle
Patients with contrast extravasation were significantly older, had higher ISS, and were more likely to require transfusion
There was an association between the number of transverse process fractures and “need for” angioembolization
Size of the psoas hematoma was predictive of the need for angioembolization
Angioembolization of the psoas was frequently associated with embolization of the pelvis
The right psoas has both contrast extravasation and a sizable hematoma
Bottom line: This study has many weaknesses, but does show that psoas extravasation occurs somewhat frequently, even at a low volume center. I always worry about studies that state something like “and xx patients required intervention.” Generally, this means that it was performed at the discretion of the clinician and no consistent rules were applied. And even though hematoma size was significantly correlated with angioembolization, it’s probably not worth the effort to have your radiologist calculate it. But it does illustrate one nearly universal trauma rule:
Patients with active extravasation on CT are bleeding to death until proven otherwise
Do not sit back and manage expectantly! The corollary to this rule is:
Contrast extravasation on CT always requires active measures to stop it
These active measures are typically angioembolization for difficult to reach areas in hemodynamically stable patients (gluteal artery for buttock, lumbar artery for psoas muscle, solid organs). Unstable patients absolutely require a trip to the OR for control. Superficial muscular bleeding frequently stops with good pressure dressings or positioning the patient so they lie on the affected area. Just don’t sit around and watch these patients bleed when you see extravasation on the CT.
Reference: Impact of contrast extravasation on computed tomography of thepsoas major muscle in patients with blunt torso trauma. J Trauma 86(2):268-273, 2019.
I’m fascinated with 3D printing, and have written a number of posts on the topic. There are numerous applications in medicine, and particularly in trauma care. We are currently able to print substitutes for bone, cartilage (trachea), bladder, skin, and more. To date, all of these use the same 2D technology found in ink-jet printers. But instead of 2D splashes of ink, three dimensional bits of plastic or metal are stacked on top of each other one layer at a time and fused by a laser.
UC Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have developed a new 3D printing technology that coalesces an entire object at once using 3D information projected by shining light fro a standard LED projector into a column containing a special resin. The device has been renamed the “replicator” since it functions like the device seen in various Star Trek series. Here’s a brief video:
Bottom line: This is new technology, so it’s still a bit glitchy. The surface definition is lower than conventional 3D printing, which will limit its usefulness in some medical applications. And currently, the size limit is only four inches. But it will allow printing over existing objects, which may give it some real advantages. I’m sure there’s more to come with this promising new technology.
Delayed diagnoses / missed injuries are with us to stay. The typical trauma activation is a fast-paced process, with lots of things going on at once. Trauma professionals are very good about doing a thorough exam and selecting pertinent diagnostic tests to seek out the obvious and not so obvious injuries.
But we will always miss a few. The incidence varies from 1% to about 40%, depending on who your read. Most of the time, they are subtle and have little clinical impact. But some are not so subtle, and some of the rare ones can be life-threatening.
The trauma tertiary survey has been around for at least 30 years, and is executed a little differently everywhere you go. But the concept is the same. Do another exam and check all the diagnostic tests after 24 to 48 hours to make sure you are not missing the obvious.
Does it actually work? There have been a few studies over the years that have tried to find the answer. A paper was published that used meta-analysis to figure this out. The authors defined two types of missed injury:
Type I – an injury that was missed during the initial evaluation but was detected by the tertiary survey.
Type II – an injury missed by both the initial exam and the tertiary survey
Here are the factoids:
Only 10 observational studies were identified, and only 3 were suitable for meta-analysis
The average Type I missed injury rate was 4.3%. The number tended to be lower in large studies and higher in small studies.
Only 1 study looked at the Type II missed injury rate – 1.5%
Three studies looked at the change in missed injury rates before and after implementation of a tertiary survey process. Type I increased from 3% to 7%, and Type II decreased from 2.4% to 1.5%, both highly significant.
10% to 30% of missed injuries were significant enough to require operative management
Bottom line: In the complex dance of a trauma activation, injuries will be missed. The good news is that the tertiary survey does work at picking up many, but not all, of the “occult” injuries. And with proper attention to your patient, nearly all will be found by the time of discharge. Develop your process, adopt a form, and crush missed injuries!