All posts by TheTraumaPro

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 for the final installment in my next post.

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10 Things That Will Get You Sued – Part 1

Many trauma professionals believe that they can only be sued if they make a medical error and some harm occurs. Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. Yes, this is one obvious way to spark a suit or claim. 

Unfortunately, it goes beyond that. Your patient may sue you if they even believe that they were harmed in some way, or think that something untoward happened while you were providing care. Here are the top 10 reasons for getting sued and my thoughts on each (in no particular order). 

#1. “What we have here is a failure to communicate”

Your interpersonal skills are at least as important as your clinical skills! You may be a clinical prodigy, but if you are an asshole at the bedside, your patients will never appreciate your skills. You must be able to listen and empathize with your patient. Sit down, look at them eye to eye. Listen attentively. Don’t appear to be in a rush to get out of the room. You’d be surprised at how much more valuable information you will get and the relationship you create.

#2. “Work not documented is work not done”

This is my quote and it’s one of my favorites. Accurate, complete, timely, and legible documentation is a must! The legibility problem is fading with the widespread use of electronic health records (EHR, although this is creating new problems). Documentation, or lack thereof, will not get you sued. However, if you are involved in a suit or claim and your care is scrutinized, poor or missing documentation will make it impossible to plausibly contend that you did what you say you did. 

It’s critical that you document every encounter thoroughly enough to be able to reconstruct what you were thinking and what you did. And providing a date and time is absolutely critical. This is especially important when the EHR timestamps everything you enter. Frequently, you will be documenting something somewhat after the fact. Always make sure that it’s not too far after the fact. Document as promptly as you can, and include the time that you were actually providing the service. 

And never go back and try to “correct” your documentation, especially if the chart is being requested for inclusion in a suit or claim. If you believe there is an error, create an addendum and explain why the correction is necessary. If a suit or claim has been started, do not touch or open the chart without advice from your legal counsel.

Tune in for Part 2 in my next post!

CT Scan Image Settings Simplified

Ever wonder what is going on when you drag your mouse across a CT image, or when you change the “window” settings of an image from lung to abdomen? It all has to do with the way CT generated xray information is displayed, and how your eyes and brain perceive it.

Let’s get down to basics. The first thing needed is to understand the concept of radiodensity. The CT scanner uses a set of software algorithms to determine the amount of x-radiation absorbed by every element in a plane of tissue. Each of these elements is represented by a pixel on the video display, and the density (amount of x-radiation absorbed) is measured in Hounsfield units. This scale was developed by Sir Godfrey Hounsfield, who set the radiodensity of water at 0, and air at -1000. The scale extends in the positive direction to about +4000, which represents very dense metals. See the table for the density of common substances on CT.

When you view a CT scan on a video display, two important numbers are displayed on screen. The first is the window width (W), which describes the range of Hounsfield units displayed. The maximum window width possible is usually about 2000, but our eyes are not capable of seeing this many shades. Actually, we can really only distinguish about 16 shades of gray. So the window width is divided by 16, and each group of Hounsfield values is converted to one of 16 shades of gray. The lowest Hounsfield numbers in the window range are shown as black, and the highest are white.

The second important number is the window level (L). This is the Hounsfield number in the center of the window width. So let’s look at some typical examples of W/L settings.

The abdomen contains mostly soft tissue, which is just a little denser than water. So most of the abdominal contents have Hounsfield values from 0 to 100 or so. A typical abdominal scan W/L setting is 350/50. This means that a total range of 350 different densities are displayed, centered on a density of 50 Hounsfield units ( range is -125 to 225 HU). Each difference of 22 HU will show up as a different shade of gray. So this narrow window allows us to distinguish relatively subtle differences in density.

The chest cavities are primarily air-filled, and the lungs are very low density. So it makes sense that a typical lung W/L setting is 1500/-500. The window ranges from -1250 to +250 HU, and a wider range of 94 HU represents one shade of gray. This is typical of body regions with a wider range of densities.

Finally, bone windows are usually 2000/250. This window is centered above the usual tissue densities, and is very wide so that it shows a wide range of densities in only 16 shades of gray. Thus, the contrast appears very low.

On most displays, the window width increases as you drag the mouse to the right. This increases the range of densities in a shade of gray, thus decreasing the overall amount of contrast in the image. Dragging the mouse down decreases the window level, moving it toward the air end of the spectrum. This allows you to center your window on the type of tissue you are interested in viewing and adjust your ability to distinguish objects with a lot or only a little contrast (see table above).

I apologize to my radiology colleagues in advance for this simplistic explanation. Trauma professionals have minimal exposure (pun intended) to the physics and details of radiographic imaging. We are much more interested in effectively using this technology to save our patients’ lives.

Acute Ethanol Intoxication And The Banana Bag

It’s one of those time honored treatments that most hospital-based providers are familiar with. The banana bag, reserved for intoxicated patients presenting to the ED or admitted to the hospital. They’ve been around so long, we just take them for granted. But like most things that have become dogmatic, they are due to be questioned from time to time.

A banana bag is a proprietary mix of “good” stuff, including electrolytes and vitamins, especially thiamine and magnesium. The exact content varies from hospital to hospital. Thiamine and other B vitamins give the resulting solution the characteristic color, hence the term “banana.”

Does it actually do good things like ward off Wernicke’s encephalopathy and megaloblastic anemia? A paper from Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx prospectively evaluated a series of intoxicated people entering their ED. They drew vitamin B12, folate, and thiamine levels to see if they were deficient enough to even need vitamin supplementation.

Interesting findings:

  • These folks (only 77 patients) were very drunk! Average BAC was 280mg/dL.
  • Vitamin B12 and folate levels were not critically low in any patient
  • Thiamine was low in 15% of patients, but none had clinical evidence of a deficiency
  • Later review of prior visits revealed that some patients with low levels had received a previous banana bag within 1 month. Did it do any good?

Bottom line: Most of our intoxicated patients are not vitamin deficient, and don’t need supplementation. The real kicker is that  we almost never really try to find out if the patient might be a chronic abuser and potentially at risk. We just hang the bag. Remember, everything we do in medicine has a potential downside. And if the patient really doesn’t need a banana bag in the first place, there is no benefit to balance that risk. The next time you ask for that little yellow bag, think again!

Reference: Vitamin deficiencies in acutely intoxicated patients in the ED. Am J Emerg Med 26(7):729-795, 2008.

Are We Transporting Our Patients In The Correct Position? Part 2

[Note to prehospital providers: please comment below or email with your experience using this position.]

In my last post, I discussed the only paper I could find on the lateral trauma position (LTP). It was a survey that was taken 5 years after implementation of this transport position in Norway. Is there anything else out there that may help give us guidance on proper positioning during transport?

Just this month, a paper was published that tries to look at this issue from a different viewpoint. Since we can’t really show that the LTP is good or prove that it is truly safe, can we at least demonstrate that supine positioning might be bad?

 A very diverse group of researchers in Norway performed a systematic literature review and meta-analysis of everything they could find published on supine positioning and airway patency in unconscious trauma patients, especially when compared to lateral positioning. This was carried out from the beginning of time, or 1959 in this case.

See if you can follow their progress:

  • There weren’t really any good studies using this global search, so they broadened it to include trauma patients with decreased level of consciousness.
  • Oops! There weren’t any studies using this broader definition, either.
  • The authors wanted to use morbidity and mortality as their outcomes. But, there weren’t any good studies for this either so the decided to use indirect outcomes such as hypoxia, hypercapnea, hypoventilation, work of breathing, and a bunch of other stuff.
  • Oops again! There weren’t any studies reporting these indirect outcomes. 
  • But when these two indirect searches were combined, a number of papers (20) were identified that were used for a meta-analysis
  • A number of these papers showed soft results (language like ”indication of”, “small difference”). The only significant results were found in patients with known obstructive sleep apnea.

Bottom line: The use of the lateral trauma position is an intriguing concept, and has been used successfully in Norway for about 10 years. Intuitively, it makes sense, especially in obese patients or those with known obstructive sleep apnea. Unfortunately, this paper approached the questions asked kind of backwards, in my opinion.

I believe that LTP has a place in prehospital care, but that there will be significant barriers to adoption in most countries. In order to overcome these hurdles, clear protocols and positioning instructions will need to be developed, as well as specific indications. And it wouldn’t hurt to do a few good studies along the way. The Norwegians have helped us with the ethics questions, as it is the standard of care in that country. So write your local IRB and get busy!

Related post:

Reference: Is the supine position associated with loss of airway patency in unconscious trauma patients? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med 23:50, July 1, 2015.