The October issue of the Trauma MedEd newsletter will be sent out soon! It is a compilation of my most read and most requested posts.
This issue is being released to subscribers tonight with the Halloween crowd. If you sign up any time before then, you will receive it, too. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until it goes out to the general public at the end of next week. Click this link right away to sign up now and/or download back issues.
In this issue, get some tips on:
- How Quickly Does Hemoglobin Drop?
- How To Remember The “Classes of Hemorrhage”
- How To: The Serial Abdominal Exam
- Bathing/Showering And Wound Care
As always, this month’s issue will go to all of my subscribers first. If you are not yet one of them, click this link right away to sign up now and/or download back issues.
All trauma centers admit some of their patients to nonsurgical services. This usually occurs when patients have medical comorbidities that overshadow their injuries. Unfortunately, the decision-making that goes into balancing the medical versus trauma issues is not always straightforward. The fear is that if trauma patients are inappropriately placed on a nonsurgical service, mortality and morbidity may be higher because their injuries may not receive adequate attention.
To take some of the variability out of the decision-making process for admitting service, two surgical groups on Long Island created a scoring system that incorporated several parameters described in the ACS Optimal Resource Document (Orange book). Some additional parameters were also included that the authors believed were relevant to the choice of admitting service. Here’s the final list:
The first author on the paper was a nurse, Laura Nelson, and hence this has come to be known as the Nelson Score. Patients with a score score of 7 were considered definitely appropriate for nonsurgical admission. Scores of 4 or 5 were subject to more in-depth review, and those with a score of 3 or less were considered definitely appropriate for trauma service admission. There is no mention of what to do with a score of 6 in the original paper, but I presume it should be almost a slam dunk for considering nonsurgical admission.
The authors evaluated this system’s utility over a two year period. They found that using it placed more patients on the trauma service (nonsurgical admissions decreased from a peak of 28% to somewhere around 10%). They also examined morbidity and mortality statistics between the two types of admissions, and found no significant differences.
The concept was further tested by the trauma group at UCHealth in Colorado Springs. They performed a retrospective review of four years of data that included over 2,000 patients. Patients were older (mean 79 years) and nearly all had blunt mechanism. Mean ISS was 9 and the nonsurgical admission rate was 19%. Patients with a Nelson score of 6 or 7 were even older and had more comorbidities.
Regression analysis did not identify admitting service as a predictor of mortality. The authors concluded that using this score is a safe way to objectively identify patients who would benefit from nonsurgical admission.
Bottom line: I have visited a number of hospitals that successfully use the Nelson score to assist with admission service decision-making while the patient is still in the emergency department. The only gray zone is the score of 4 or 5. Each program will need to determine their own cut point so they can make the service decision more objectively.
Trauma programs can also use this tool to expedite PI review of patients who have already been admitted to a nonsurgical service to check appropriateness. If the score is less than 6 further scrutiny is needed to determine if a consult from or transfer to trauma should be recommended.
- Nonsurgical Admissions With Traumatic Injury: Medical Patients Are Trauma Patients Too. Journal of Trauma Nursing, 25 (3), 192-195, 2018.
- Evaluation of the Nelson criteria as an indicator for nonsurgical admission in trauma patients. Am Surg, 88(7), 1537-1540, 2022.
The Advanced Trauma Life Support course lists “classes of hemorrhage”, and various other sources list a similar classification for shock. I’ve not been able to pinpoint where these concepts came from, exactly. But I am sure of one thing: you will be tested on it at some point in your lifetime.
Here’s the table used by the ATLS course:
The question you will always be asked is:
What class of hemorrhage (or what % of blood volume loss) is the first to demonstrate systolic hypotension?
This is important because prehospital providers and those in the ED typically rely on systolic blood pressure to figure out if their patient is in trouble.
The answer is Class III, or 30-40%. But how do you remember the damn percentages?
It’s easy! The numbers are all tennis scores. Here’s how to remember them:
||up to 15%
||Love – 15
||15 – 30
||30 – 40
||Game (almost) over!
Bottom line: Never miss that question again!
Remember MAST Trousers (Military Anti-Shock Trousers)? They were a staple of prehospital care starting in the 1970s and lasting through the turn of the century. But what happened after that? They seem to have disappeared. I recently received a question on the topic recently and wanted to share the real story with you readers.
The basic MAST trouser consists of three inflatable compartments: two legs and one covering the abdomen and pelvis. Each can be inflated or deflated separately. The basic concept was first described by a surgeon who wanted to increase blood pressure during neurosurgical procedures in the early 1900s. The US military embraced the concept during the Vietnam war, using it to augment systolic pressure in servicemen in shock.
Military surgeons migrated this device into civilian prehospital care during the mid-1970s, and the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma listed this device as essential on all ambulances in 1977. MAST trousers then came into widespread use throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Early research in the 1970s suggested that this device could provide up to a 20% boost in volume to the upper part of the body when applied. But as occurs with so many new toys, additional research demonstrated that this auto-transfusion effect was actually only about 5% of blood volume. Some significant complications also came to light as lower extremity ischemia and compartment syndromes were described. Ben Taub Hospital published a study in 1987 which showed no improvement in mortality in patients with penetrating injury.
At the end of the century, support for MAST started to dry up. The NAEMSP published a position paper limiting use to ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms and pelvic fractures with hypotension. The final straw was a review by the Cochrane Collaboration in 2000 that confirmed no reduction in mortality with MAST use.
Although a few older textbooks may still mention MAST trousers, they are no longer the standard of care. There are no longer any accepted indications for their use, and the few trousers that remain are gathering cobwebs in some corner of the trauma basement.
Reference: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan.
How often have you seen this in an admitting history and physical exam note? “Admit for observation; serial abdominal exams.” We say it so often it almost doesn’t mean anything. And during your training, did anyone really teach you how to do it? For most trauma professionals, I believe the answer is no.
Yet the serial abdominal exam is a key part of the management of many clinical issues, for both trauma patients as well as those with acute care surgical problems.
Here are the key points:
- Establish a baseline. As an examiner, you need to be able to determine if your patient is getting worse. So you need to do an initial exam as a basis for comparisons.
- Pay attention to analgesics. Make sure you know what was given last, and when. You do not need to withhold pain medications. They will reduce pain, but not eliminate it. You just need enough information to determine if the exam is getting worse with the same amount of medication on board.
- Perform regular exams. It’s one thing to write down that serial exams will be done, but someone actually has to do them. How often? Consider how quickly your patient’s status could change, given the clinical possibilities you have in mind. In general, every 4 hours should be sufficient. Every shift is not. And be thorough!
- Document, document, document. A new progress note should be written, dated and timed, every time you see your patient. Leave a detailed description of how the patient looks, vital signs, pertinent labs, and of course, exact details of the physical exam.
- Practice good handoffs. Yes, we understand that you won’t be able to see the patient shift after shift. So when it’s time to handoff, bring the person relieving you and do the exam with them. You can describe the pertinent history, the exam to date, the analgesic history, and allow them to establish a baseline that matches yours. And of course, make sure they can contact you if there are any questions.