All posts by The Trauma Pro

How Often Should My Trauma Operations Committee Meet?

In my last post, I discussed how often your multidisciplinary trauma performance improvement committee (PI) should meet. As you know, one other mandatory committee is required of all trauma centers, the Trauma Operations Committee (Ops). In this post, I will:

  • describe how often your operations committee should meet
  • help you determine whether your two committees should meet on the same day or separately

How Often?

The short answer to this question is practically the same as for your PI committee, “it depends.” Whereas the PI committee schedule is determined more by the volume of your performance improvement activity, your ops committee is driven by its agenda.

First, look at what items are on your typical agenda:

  • Reports
  • Announcements
  • Policy discussion and revision
  • Marketing and outreach planning
  • TQIP report analysis
  • System issue analysis
  • Workgroup reports
  • Other stuff

Now, think back to your previous meetings. Do you sometimes have to cancel due to a lack of agenda items? Do you struggle to keep to the time allotted and frequently go over it? These are your biggest clues that let you know that you need to adjust the meeting frequency,

In general, your ops committee frequency is reasonably predictable from your trauma center level:

  • Level I – monthly
  • Moderate to high volume Level II – monthly
  • Lower volume Level II – bimonthly
  • Level III – bimonthly to quarterly
  • Level IV – quarterly

However, the agenda is really what drives meeting frequency. If you have a very active ops committee or are a “young” trauma center, this group may be very busy and need to meet more frequently than this. Base your final decision on your level of “busyness.”

To Combine Or Not Combine?

Combining your PI and Ops committee meetings has several pros and cons.


  • Decreases the number of meetings for everybody by one
  • Easier scheduling for attendees and venue
  • Consolidates agenda planning for the trauma admin team


  • May lead to loooong meetings
  • Frequently results in a less predictable start time for the second meeting
  • Requires extra administrative effort to maintain separate minutes and content
  • Often involves required attendees changing between meetings

Consider the logistics and personalities involved in your committees carefully. Do the attendees value shorter meetings with a predictable start time? Or do they just want to power through and take care of all of the business at hand?

Bottom line: First, determine the ideal frequency for your operations committee meeting. Is it the same as your PI committee? If so, consider combining them. If not, you will probably be forced to live with separate meetings. It is possible, however, to be creative. Consider a monthly PI meeting combined with the Ops meeting every other month.

What is the usual combined duration of the two meetings? If it is more than 2 hours, I recommend not combining them. That is just too long for your attendees to stay focused. If you can combine them, then look at the specific attendees for each meeting. Are they mostly the same? If they are, you are more likely to be successful when combining them. Reach out to your attendees to see if they would welcome a single meeting date and time. But warn them that it will routinely be 1.5 to 2 hours in length.

Now, plan your agendas carefully. If you have a substantial number of attendee changes between meetings, figure out how people will know when to show up for the second. It is easiest to have the smaller meeting first, and then add attendees when the second one starts. As for timing, there are two choices: always make each meeting a fixed length, or limit your first meeting to an exact length and allow the second to start at a fixed time and have a variable duration.

Finally, make sure the contents and minutes of the two meetings are separate. This keeps your documentation clean and easier to follow.

How Often Should My Trauma Multidisciplinary Performance Improvement Committee Meet?

Every trauma center is required to have two specific committees: a multidisciplinary trauma performance improvement committee (PI) and a trauma operations committee (ops).  However, a common question is, “How often do my committees need to meet?” Let’s start with your PI committee.

The answer, of course, is “it depends.” There is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer. In this post, I’ll review the six factors you must consider when designing your meeting schedule.

Total Patient Volume

The number of patients seen at your center directly impacts your PI committee meeting schedule. The more patient encounters, the more likely that performance issues will arise and the more likely that some will need to be aired at the full committee meeting.

PI Issue Volume

What is the total number of PI items that your program identifies over time? Busy Level I centers may find five or ten items
every day!

In contrast, an average Level IV center may only find a PI issue to pursue every few weeks. This has a noticeable impact on how often these items need to be escalated, analyzed, and discussed at your PI meeting.

PI Issue Severity

What fraction of your PI cases actually require discussion by the full committee? How many can be processed and closed by the Trauma Program Manager alone (primary review) or with the Trauma Medical Director (secondary review)? Only complex cases that require the input of multiple liaisons actually need to go to the committee.

Alternate review pathways

There are more options for review other than the primary and secondary pathways mentioned in the previous paragraph. Typical options would be direct correspondence with a liaison for simple one-service issues or discussion (and good documentation) from a morbidity and mortality conference. The use of these alternatives will reduce the number of potential cases for your PI committee and decrease the overall number of meetings needed.

Age of your Trauma Program

Are you part of a mature, long-standing trauma center? Or is your program newly minted by the American College of Surgeons or state designating agency? Newer centers benefit from sending more items to the PI committee to build engagement of the liaisons and other attendees. More frequent meetings help get them used to the review process and the frank but friendly discussions required for effective PI review.

PI Committee “Leftovers”

How often do you need to table issues or cases until the next meeting because you ran out of time? If you are chronically short of time to discuss all the agenda items, it’s time to either make the meeting longer (groan!) or schedule them more frequently.

Bottom line: These six factors listed above must be considered when choosing your meeting schedule. Here are my starting suggestions for the ideal frequencies for adult trauma centers:

  • Level I – monthly
  • Moderate to high volume Level II – monthly
  • Lower volume Level II – bimonthly
  • Level III – bimonthly to quarterly
  • Level IV – quarterly

Most pediatric centers admit lower volumes and less complex patients, which usually only warrants a bimonthly meeting.
Remember, these are starting meeting frequencies only.
If you are a new trauma center, consider more frequent meetings for your first year to get your attendees used to and invested in the process. And if you need more cases to fill the meeting or have more hold-overs until the next meeting, adjust your calendar appropriately.

In my next post, I’ll cover this same topic for your trauma operations committee.

Dysphagia and Cervical Spine Injury

Cervical spine injury presents a host of problems, but one of the least appreciated ones is dysphagia. Many clinicians don’t even think of it, but it is a relatively common problem, especially in the elderly. Swallowing difficulties may arise for several reasons:

  • Prevertebral soft tissue swelling may occur with high cervical spine injuries, leading to changes in the architecture of the posterior pharynx
  • Rigid cervical collars, such as the Miami J and Aspen, and halo vests all force the neck into a neutral position. Elderly patients may have a natural kyphosis, and this change in positioning may interfere with swallowing. Try extending your neck by about 30 degrees and see how much more difficult it is to swallow.
  • Patients with cervical fractures more commonly need a tracheostomy for ventilatory support and/or have a head injury, and these are well known culprits in dysphagia

Normal soft tissue (<6mm at C2, <22mm at C6)

A study in the Jan 2011 Journal of Trauma outlined the dysphagia problem seen with placement of a halo vest. They studied a series of 79 of their patients who were treated with a halo. A full 66% had problems with their swallowing evaluation. This problem was associated with a significantly longer ICU stay and a somewhat longer overall hospital stay.

Bottom line: Suspect dysphagia in all patients with cervical fractures, especially the elderly. We don’t use halo vests very often any more, but cervical collars can exacerbate the problem by keeping the neck in an unaccustomed position. Carry out a formal swallowing evaluation, and adjust the collar (or halo) if appropriate.

Reference: Swallowing dysfunction in trauma patients with cervical spine fractures treated with halo-vest fixation. J Trauma 70(1):46-50, 2011.

10 Things That Will Get You Sued – Part 3

#7. Inappropriate prescribing

Most trauma professionals worry about over-prescribing pain medication. But under-prescribing can create problems as well. Uncontrolled pain is a huge patient dissatisfier, and can lead to unwelcome complications as well (think pneumonia after rib fractures). Always do the math and make sure you are sending the right drug in the right amount home with your patient. If the patient’s needs are outside the usual range, work with their primary provider or a pain clinic to help optimize their care.

#8. Improper care during an emergency

This situation can occur in the emergency department when the emergency physician calls a specialist to assist with management. If the specialist insists on the emergency physician providing care because they do not want to come to the hospital, the specialist opens themselves up to major problems if any actual or perceived problem occurs afterwards. The emergency physician should be sure to convey their concerns very clearly, tell the specialist that the conversation will be documented carefully, and then do so. Specialists, make sure you understand the emergency physician’s concerns and clearly explain why you think you don’t need to see the patient in person. And if there is any doubt, always go see the patient.

#9. Failure to get informed consent

In emergency situations, this is generally not an issue. Attempts should be made to communicate with the patient or their surrogate to explain what needs to happen. However, life or limb saving procedures must not be delayed if informed consent cannot be obtained. Be sure to fill out a consent as soon as practical, and document any attempts that were made to obtain it. In urgent or elective situations, always discuss the procedure completely, and provide realistic information on expected outcomes and possible complications. Make sure all is documented well on the consent or in the EHR. And realize that if you utilize your surrogates to get the consent (midlevel providers, residents), you are increasing the likelihood that some of the information has not been conveyed as you would like.

#10. Letting noncompliant patients take charge

Some patients are noncompliant by nature, some are noncompliant because they are not competent (intoxicated, head injured). You must use your judgment to discern the difference between the two. Always try to act in the best interest of your patient. Document your decisions thoroughly, and don’t hesitate to involve your legal / psych / social work teams.

10 Things That Will Get You Sued – Part 2

#3. You are responsible for the conduct of your staff

If the people who work for you treat patients poorly, you may be responsible. It is important that your staff have bedside manner at least as good as yours.

#4. Avoiding your patients

Some of your patients may need to contact you, either while in the hospital or while at home. Don’t appear to be inaccessible. This is an extension of your bedside manner. Return phone calls or messages promptly, or have one of your staff do so. Make time to meet with patient families while in the hospital. Remember, you deal with trauma all the time; this is probably the first time they have and it is extremely stressful.

#5. Ordering a test without checking the result

I presume that if you order a test, you are interested in the result. And hopefully it will make some difference in patient care. If not, don’t order it. But if you do order a test, always check the result. If a critical result is found, don’t assume that “someone” will tell you about it. You are responsible for checking it and dealing with any subsequent orders or followup that is needed.

#6. “What we have here is a failure to communicate” – part 2

Most of the time, our patients have primary care providers somewhere. Make it a point to identify them and keep them in the loop. Provide, at a minimum, a copy of the discharge summary from the hospital or emergency department. If new therapies of any kind are started, make sure they are aware. And if an “incidentaloma” is found (a new medical condition found on lab tests or imaging studies), followup with the primary care provider to make sure that they are aware of it so they can take over responsibility for further diagnosis or treatment.

Tune in Friday for the final installment in my next post.