All posts by TheTraumaPro

In-House Trauma Attendings: A New Financial Benefit for Hospitals?

Many trauma hospitals provide in-house trauma attendings to improve the timeliness of care and to provide housestaff supervision. In many centers, this is required in order to meet the surgeon response requirements for trauma activations. Frequently, this involves some expense for the hospital if they provide an on-call stipend. A study in the Journal of Trauma examined the financial impact housing the surgeons in the hospital at an urban Level I trauma center.

Bellevue Hospital in New York City implemented an in-house attending policy in October of 2007. The study looked at the year prior to and the year after implementation. It focused primarily on the number of operative cases performed during nights and on weekends. The biggest changed noted was a four-fold increase in the number of cholecystectomies performed and 1.2 day decrease in the length of stay for those patients.

Using several financial approximations, they concluded that the hospital received an increased revenue of $854K, while the in-house attending program cost the hospital $750K during the year. The study raises a number of questions, though. The average length of stay, even after in-house attending presence, was 5 days! It would seem that additional savings could be accrued by working on LOS for these patients, as well as other surgical groups. There were other procedures that were done at night that were not analyzed, so there are probably more benefits to be accrued.

The downside of the in-house attendings performing these acute care surgery cases was that their availability for incoming trauma patients was reduced. There were also questions about the possibility of errors when performing surgery at 4AM.

Bottom line: This study shows evidence that there is a financial benefit to having an in-house surgeon. This will be important to hospital administrators who must grapple with the cost of moving to this type of coverage. However, higher quality financial research of this type is also needed.

Reference: In-house trauma attendings: A new financial benefit for hospitals. Pachter, Simon et al. J Trauma 2010;68(5) 1032-1037.

What A MESS! Part 2

The trauma season is officially open in Minnesota. Motorcycles are out on the (still) sanded roads, and cars are once again driving too fast. It’s also the season for crash victims to come to us with mangled extremities. 

In days of old, management was simple: take it off. But we’ve become wiser over the years and are now able to salvage a good number of these threatened limbs. The Mangled Extremity Severity Score (MESS) has helped greatly with this. 

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s beginnings were humble, almost looking like guesswork on the part of the authors. But this system has withstood the test of time. 

There are four components to MESS: limb ischemia, patient age, presence of shock, and mechanism of injury. Each component is assigned an integer value depending on severity. The possible values range from 1 to 14. Here’s the breakdown of each component:


  • +1 Reduced pulse but normal perfusion
  • +2 Pulseless, paresthetic, reduced capillary refill
  • +3 Cool, paralyzed, insensate
  • Add 3 points if limb ischemia has been present more than 6 hours


  • +0   <30 years
  • +1   30-50 years
  • +2   >50 years


  • +0 SBP >90 consistently
  • +1 Transient hypotension
  • +2 Persistent hypotension

Mechanism (kinetic energy)

  • +1 Low (stab, gunshot, simple fracture)
  • +2 Medium (dislocation, open or multiple fractures)
  • +3 High (high speed MVC, rifle)
  • +4 Very high (high energy trauma with gross contamination)

Per the original study, values of 7 or greater predict low salvageability. However, with advancing technology, drugs, and operative techniques, the threshold has been creeping higher. But not that much higher, probably 8 or so.

Bottom line: Use the MESS score as one tool in your armamentarium to help address mangled extremities. But remember, it is not the final answer. In the OR, confer with your orthopedic and vascular colleagues. Decide if immediate amputation is necessary, or whether a second look in a day or two is in order. Use MESS as a tiebreaker. But remember, don’t let your desire to save the extremity jeopardize your patient’s life (rhabdomyolysis, renal failure, acidosis). If systemic signs begin to occur, cut your (and their) losses and amputate!

Related post:

What A MESS! Part 1

The Mangled Extremity Severity Score (MESS) is now 25 years old, and it still serves us fairly well. This simple system helps predict salvageability of mangled extremities. Obviously, the acronym was chosen to help describe the clinical problem.

The system was originated at the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The development was not very scientific; the authors put their heads together and made a list of the four things that they observed predicted limb salvage:

  • Degree of skeletal and soft tissue injury
  • Presence of limb ischemia
  • Presence of shock
  • Age

The system was used retrospectively in a group of 25 patients(!) and the authors found a nice breakpoint at 7. Any mangled extremities with a MESS of 7 or more required amputation. They then applied this to 26 patients prospectively(!) and got the same result.

As you can see, the numbers were small, and there was no followup information. Nevertheless, MESS still stands today, and the critical MESS score has not changed much. It has been validated by a number of other studies during the past 20 years. It is conceivable that the critical score will slowly creep upward with advancements in flap coverage and surgical technique, but it hasn’t done so yet.

Tomorrow, I’ll show you how to calculate the MESS score, and give some tips on how to use it.

Reference: Objective Criteria Accurately Predict Amputation Following Lower Extremity Trauma. Johansen, et al. J Trauma 30(5): 568, 1990.

What The Heck? Final Answer

So what is going on with your dyspneic patient after partial ejection from their car? They are not responding to your interventions as they should How is he immune to chest tube placement?

Well, you could intubate the patient. But the x-ray will be available momentarily, and may guide you along a different path. It might even obviate the need for intubation. So while you are getting your meds ready (just in case), this image comes up:

The chest tube is in good position, but the stomach is not!

The reason your patient didn’t respond to the chest tube is that they have a traumatic rupture of the diaphragm with the stomach in the chest. It is compressing a good portion of the left lung, leading to dyspnea and poor oxygen saturation. 

Rapidly place a nasogastric tube to try to decompress the stomach. It doesn’t always work because the angles at the hiatus are not what they usually are. But if it does, the patient will feel better immediately. You may be able to avoid intubating them… for a few minutes. This is a surgical problem, and commonly involves injury to other abdominal structures, especially the spleen. Order up some blood, and rapidly complete your evaluation. A pelvis x-ray is in order, because fractures are common after full or partial ejection through the window. No other imaging is necessary. The send your patient off to the OR for a thorough exploration and repair. Now you can intubate.

I’ve seen this injury three times after partial ejection, and always involving the driver (left side, makes sense). Any time you have left sided abnormalities after blunt trauma that don’t respond to a chest tube, think about this problem.

What The Heck? The original presentation

What The Heck? Part 2

Thanks to all who tweeted, commented and emailed their suggestions! The case involves a partially ejected patient who is brought to the ED with respiratory distress and diminished lung sounds on the left. 

Sounds easy, right? But remember, this is the Trauma Professional’s Blog! I want you to be prepared for things that are a little outside the ordinary. No zebras here, but stuff you could actually see.

First, every trauma activation patient gets supplemental oxygen as the festivities continue. You need to quickly figure out if this is an airway, breathing, or circulation problem. Yes, circulation. Major torso vascular injuries and tamponade can cause respiratory distress. However, we would not expect the blood pressure to be anywhere near normal.

So check the airway to make sure there is no foreign material there. Check the trachea for position. This is one of those classic test results in medicine: if the trachea is deviated, they most likely have a tension pneumothorax. But if it’s not, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t. In this case, the trachea is in its usual place, but don’t count tension physiology out yet.

Double check the breath sounds. You confirm that they are nearly absent on the left. What to do next?

You must presume some major problem on the left: large hemo- or pneumothorax, or a tension pneumothorax. Since your patient is physiologically abnormal, you cannot wait to get a chest x-ray. You have to deal with the breathing problem right away. The correct answer is to needle the left chest, then follow immediately with a chest tube.

You do so, and both procedures go smoothly. The chest tube fogs with exhalation, and there is a small amount of blood (100cc) that drains into the collection system. But your patient does not look or feel any better! Oxygen saturations are still in the low 80′s, and he remains dyspneic. As you were finishing the chest tube, the radiology tech snapped a quick chest x-ray, and the result will be up in two minutes.

Now what? Your choices are:

  • Intubate
  • Insert another chest tube
  • Package the patient and run to the OR
  • Wait for the chest x-ray

Again, tweet, comment or email. What is wrong, and why didn’t the chest tube work? What is the ideal next move? Answer tomorrow.

What The Heck? The original presentation