All posts by TheTraumaPro

Trauma Patient Stay In The ED After Implementing an Electronic Health Record

So as we discovered, we may spend less time and see fewer patients if we use an EHR. One would think that ED length of stay (LOS) would then increase. But does it?

A 2 year observational study from Greece looked at ED throughput before and after implementation of an electronic trauma documentation system. A total of 101 trauma patients were processed under the paper charting system, and 99 were handled after implementation of the electronic system.

Here are the factoids:

  • Injury severity was high overall, with half going for emergent surgery and an overall mortality rate of about 12%
  • Total ED LOS decreased from 206 to 127 minutes with the EHR
  • This was accomplished by decreasing time between arrival and completion of care from 149 to 100 minutes, and from completion of care to leaving the ED from 47 to 26 minutes

Bottom line: Looks great! Badly hurt patients, moving through the ED at breakneck speed after implementation of an EHR. The problem is that it was not really an EHR, but an “electronic documentation system.” Upon close inspection, this is a homegrown system with very specific functionality for monitoring care, providing checklists, and offering case-specific guidance. This is not the type of complex documentation system one usually thinks of when visualizing an EHR. But it does go to show that well-designed and focused software can be beneficial.

Tomorrow, I’ll start to focus specifically on the electronic trauma flow sheet (eTFS).

Reference: The effect of an electronic documentation system on the trauma patient’s length of stay in an emergency department. J Emerg Nursing 40(5)469-475, 2014.

A Brief History of the Electronic Health Record

The EHR has been around longer than you think. Even before the current desktop style microcomputers existed, a few hospitals implemented early versions of this product. One of the first was the Latter Day Saints Hospital in Salt Lake City. It installed what it called the HELP system, an acronym for Health Evaluation through Logical Programming.

As computing power increased and the size of the computer box and its cost decreased, a series of advances in medical software systems began to occur. In 1983, a software product geared toward resource scheduling was introduced, and became one of the leading applications of its kind. Most people recognize the name Cadence, but few realize that this was one of the earliest product releases from Epic Systems Corporation.

In 1988, the US government contracted out to develop an electronic record system for the military, much of which is still in use today. On a smaller scale, PC type computers were almost 10 years old in 1990 when Microsoft introduced what I consider the first real version of Windows, version 3.0. Epic was once again an innovator, and it released a product called EpicCare for Windows.

Beginning in 2004, there was a move within the government to emphasize implementation of EHRs across the US, spearheaded by President George W. Bush. And as expected, this led to a number of products developed by a variety of software makers. The push to roll out an EHR universally continues to this day, with no end in sight.

Is this a good thing or a bad one? Although much maligned, the EHR can certainly offer benefits. However, like anything touted as a miracle drug or device, there are always downsides. I’ll review both over the course of the week, but my focus will be on one very specific trauma problem: use of the EHR during trauma resuscitation. Many trauma programs either voluntarily adopted the use of an electronic trauma flow sheet (eTFS), or were forced into it by their hospital administration or IT department. Good idea or not?

We shall see…

Trauma And The Electronic Health Record

I’m going to dedicate this week to discussing the impact of the electronic health record (EHR) on trauma care.

First, I’ll talk a little about the history of the EHR, how it came about and why it was “encouraged” of all hospitals. I’ll also look at who the big players are. Next, I’ll review two studies of the impact of the EHR on ED productivity and patient stay.

And finally, I’ll really dig into using an electronic trauma flow sheet that interfaces with the EHR. My thinking has slowly been changing, but not by much. I’ll review my reasons, and talk about the (few) success stories that are out there.

Stay tuned!

How Much Radiation Exposure In Imaging Studies?

Everyone knows that CT scans deliver more radiation than conventional x-ray. But how much does each test really deliver? And how significant is that?

Let me try to put it all into perspective. First, how much radiation are we exposed to just living outside the hospital? Background radiation is everywhere. It consists of radioactive gases (argon) in the air we breathe, radiation from the rocks and other things around us, and cosmic rays blasting through us from space.

In the United States, the average background radiation each of us is exposed to is about 3.1 milliSieverts (mSv). I’ve compiled a table to show the approximate dose delivered by some of the common radiographic studies ordered by trauma professionals. And to keep it real, I’ve calculated how much extra background radiation we would have to absorb, in units of time, to have an equivalent exposure.

Read and enjoy! Remember, doses may vary by scanner, settings, and dose reduction measures used.

Test Dose (mSv) Equivalent background
Chest x-ray 0.1 10 days
Pelvis x-ray 0.1 10 days
CT head 2 8 months
CT cervical spine 3 1 year
Plain c-spine 0.2 3 weeks
CT chest 7 2 years
CT abdomen/pelvis 10 3 years
CT T&L spine 7 2 years
Plain T&L spine 3 1 year
Millimeter wave
scanner (that hands
in the air TSA thing at
the airport)
0.0001 15 minutes
Scatter from a chest
x-ray in trauma bay
when standing one 
meter from the
0.0002 45 minutes
Scatter from a chest
x-ray in trauma bay
when standing three 
meters from the
0.000022 6 minutes

Cognitive Rest? What Is It?

One of the more commonplace recommendations for recovery from mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) is “cognitive rest.” Sports medicine professionals recommend it, physiatrists recommend it, and trauma professionals talk about it.

First, what is it, exactly? I’ve seen a number of descriptions, and they vary quite a bit. The main concept is to avoid all activities that involve mental exertion. This includes using a computer, watching TV, talking on a cell phone, reading, playing video games, and listening to loud music. Huh?

What good does this allegedly do? Most articles that I’ve read theorize that cognitive activity somehow increases the metabolic activity of the brain and that this is bad. One of the more interesting papers I read (from 2010!) says it best: “It is now well-accepted that excessive neurometabolic activity can interfere with recovery from a concussion and that physical rest is needed.”

Read carefully. Well-accepted. The paper cites unpublished data on children by one of the authors, 2 meta-analyses and 2 consensus opinions. In other words, no data at all. Yet somehow the concept has caught on.

First of all, I don’t think it’s possible for most people to realistically practice cognitive rest. Who knows if there is really any difference in metabolism and energy use by the brain if you are engaging in any of the banned activities above? And let’s go to the other extreme: if one lies quietly in bed meditating, shouldn’t this be the ultimate cognitive rest? Yet fMRI and PET studies suggest (also limited data) that cerebral flow in specific areas of the brain increases during this state.

Maybe a modest increase in activity is good. Physical activity (within limits) has been shown to be very beneficial to physical and psychological well being time and time again. And the only paper I could find on the topic with respect to TBI showed that randomization to bedrest vs normal physical activity had no difference in post-concussive syndrome incidence or severity. However, the active group recovered with significantly less dizziness.

Bottom line: There is no data to support the concept of cognitive rest. Any type of activity, either mental or physical, can cause fatigue in a variable amount of time in people with mild TBI. It is probably best to interpret this as a signal to take it easy and recover for a while before exerting oneself again. But so far there is no objective data to show that cognitive activity either helps or hinders recovery.


  • Cognitive rest: the often neglected aspect of concussion management. Athletic Therapy Today, March 2010, pg 1-3.
  • Effectiveness of bed rest after mild traumatic brain injury: a randomised trial of no versus six days of bed rest. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 73:167-172, 2002.