All posts by TheTraumaPro

Trauma Activation Patients Staying Too Long In Your ED?

One of the long-held beliefs in trauma care relates to the so-called “golden hour.” Patients who receive definitive care promptly do better, we are told. In most trauma centers, the bulk of this early care takes place in the emergency department. However, for a variety of reasons, throughput in the ED can be slow. Could extended periods of time spent in the ED after patient arrival have an impact on survival?

Wake Forest looked at their experience with nearly 4,000 trauma activation patients who were not taken to the OR immediately and who stayed in the ED for up to 5 hours. They looked at the impact of ED dwell time on in-hospital mortality, length of stay and ventilator days.

Overall mortality was 7%, and the average time in the ED was 3 hours and 15 minutes. The investigators set a reasonable but arbitrary threshold of 2 hours to try to get trauma activation patients out of the ED. When they looked at their numbers, they found that mortality increased (7.8% vs 4.3%) and that hospital and ICU lengths of stay were longer in the longer ED stay group. Hospital mortality increased with each hour spent in the ED, and 8.3% of patients staying between 4 and 5 hours dying. ED length of stay was an independent predictor for mortality even after correcting for ISS, RTS and age. The most common cause of death was late complications from infection.

Why is this happening? Patients staying longer in the ED between 2 and 5 hours were more badly injured but not more physiologically abnormal. This suggests that diagnostic studies or consultations were being performed. The authors speculated that the knowledge, experience and protocols used in the inpatient trauma unit were not in place in the ED, contributing to this effect.

Bottom line: This is an interesting retrospective study. It reflects the experience of only one hospital and the results could reflect specific issues found only at Wake Forest. However, shorter ED times are generally better for other reasons as well (throughput, patient satisfaction, etc). I would encourage all trauma centers to examine the flow and delivery of care for major trauma patients in the ED and to attempt to streamline those processes so the patients can move on to the inpatient trauma areas or ICU as efficiently as possible.

Reference: Emergency department length of stay is an independent predictor of hospital mortality in trauma activation patients. J Trauma 70(6):1317-1325, 2011.

How To See The Unseeable: The Answer

Yesterday I posed a scenario where the surgeon needed to see an area of an open abdomen (trauma laparotomy) that could not easily be visualized. Specifically, there was a question as to whether the diaphragm had been violated just anterior to the liver, just under the costal margin.

Short of putting your head in the wound, how can you visualize this area? Or some other hard to reach spot? Well, you could have an assistant insert a retractor and pull like crazy. However, the rib cage might not bend very well, and in elderly patients it may break. Not a good idea.

Some readers suggested breaking out the laparoscopy equipment and using the camera and optics to visualize. This is a reasonable idea, but expensive. Shouldn’t there be some good (and cheap) way to do this?

Of course, and there is. Think low tech. Very low tech. You just need to see around a corner, right. So get a mirror!

Every OR has some sterile dental mirrors lying around. Get one and have your assistant gently hold the liver down while you indirectly examine the diaphragm. Since you’re probably not a dentist, it may take a minute or two to get used to manipulating the mirror to see just what you want. But if you can manage laparoscopic surgery, you’ll get the hang of it quickly. 

And if you need more light up in those nooks and crannies? Shine the OR light directly into the abdomen, then place a nice shiny malleable retractor into the area to reflect light into the area in questions. Voila!

Bottom line: A lot of the things that trauma professionals need to do in the heat of the moment will not be found in doctor, nurse, or paramedic books. Be creative. Look at the stuff around you and available to you. Figure out a way to make it work, and make $#!+ up if necessary.

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Trauma Surgery Tip: How To See The Unseeable

Let me present a scenario and first see how you might solve this problem.

A young man presents with a gunshot to the abdomen in the right mid-back. He is hemodynamically stable, and you get a chest xray. It shows a small caliber slug in the right upper quadrant, but no hemo- or pneumothorax. He has peritoneal signs, so you whisk him off to the OR for a laparotomy.

As you prep the patient for the case, you can feel a small mass just above the right costal margin. You incise the area and produce a 22 caliber bullet. Of course, you follow the chain of evidence rules and pass it off for the police. As you explore the abdomen, it appears that there are no gross injuries. You are concerned, however, that there may be an injury to the diaphragm in proximity to the bullet.

So here’s the question: how can you visualize the diaphragm in this area? The bullet was located below the right nipple. But the diaphragm in this area is covered by the liver, and is parallel to the floor. You can’t seem to feel a hole with your fat finger. But short of putting your whole head in the wound, you just can’t get a good angle to see the area in question.

How would you do it? Please tweet or leave comments with your suggestions. I’ll provide the answer(s) tomorrow!

The Next Best Postop Analgesia – Ice Packs?

As usual, the simplest things are often the best. A recent paper looked at the newest and greatest “drug” to use for providing postoperative analgesia: the good, old-fashioned ice pack!

This concept is obviously not new. Cold is known to quiet inflammation, which is inevitable when tissues are incised. Athletes and their trainers have used ice packs forever. Surgical studies have evaluated their use in orthopedic extremity procedures as well as hernia repairs.

The current paper, from several surgical departments at Emory in Atlanta, randomly allocated patients to have an ice pack placed on their laparotomy incision. Only patients undergoing open abdominal procedures were included. Ice packs were maintained in place for 24 hours, and were then allowed as long as the patient wanted it. Pain, as judged by the analog pain scale, narcotic use, and hospital length of stay were measured. A power analysis was actually performed, and the number of patients required to detect a 15% difference were enrolled (!).

Here are the factoids:

  • 55 patients were enrolled, and were truly randomized
  • Most operations were for pancreatic, gastric, liver, and colorectal cancers
  • The usual demographics of the two groups were identical
  • Pain score was decreased as measured twice later in the day on day 1, and once on day 3
  • Narcotic use was lower on day 1
  • Length of stay was the same for both groups
  • Patients in the cryotherapy group requested to keep the ice packs for an average 2.75 days. None requested removal at the end of day 1.
  • Most stated that they would request an ice pack the next time they had surgery

Bottom line: For once, a nicely done study! Simple and to the point. It reinforces the concept that cheap and simple can still be good. The ice packs in this study were plain old refillable bags filled with ice cubes, not fancy gel or chemical packs that cost lots of money. And the decrease in narcotic use is huge! The side effects of these drugs (constipation, urinary retention, allergic reaction, etc.) create the need for interventions that introduce another whole world of complications.

Consider adding the simple old ice pack to your armamentarium of postop pain relief. But remember, you’ve got to start it as early as possible for best effect, ideally as the surgical dressing is placed.

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Reference: Ice Packs Reduce Postoperative Midline Incision Pain and Narcotic Use: A Randomized Controlled Trial. JACS 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2014.03.057, 2014.

A Cool Way To Look At Injury Data

Governmental agencies everywhere collect trauma related data. The US federal government maintains a number of databases, such as the Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS), the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) and many others. States collect similar but smaller datasets. Even towns and municipalities collate injury information in the form of prehospital run sheets.

But reams of data are of no use unless you can learn something from it. Unfortunately, most of this data is tucked away in database management systems, or in some cases just stacks of paper forms locked up somewhere. In order for humans to make sense of it and do useful things with it, we need to transform it into forms that we can easily interpret and make sense of. 

Fortunately, there are lots of visual, electronic tools available to help us do just that. One of the most helpful tools is the programmable geographic information system (GIS). An example of this is Google Maps. Most of us have used this or a similar tool in some form, usually to get directions from here to there. But you may not be aware that Google provides a programming interface so a savvy user can place any type of geography-related data on the map, creating what is called a mashup.

Imagine crossing the FARS database, which contains extensive data points on every fatal road accident in the US, with a mapping system. This would allow creation of a map showing where every person lost their life in a road accident, along with additional pertinent information about the event. A great example of this is demonstrated below. It was created by ITO World Ltd., based in the UK. They crossed fatality information with geographic map data in both the US and the UK.


This map shows fatal road events around Minneapolis from 2001 to 2009. The type of event (pedestrian struck, motor vehicle crash, etc.) is displayed along with age, year and sex. It is movable and zoomable so it can be viewed it in great detail. Click on the map above to open a new window to the full map.

Bottom line: Using trauma data / map mashups is a great way to visualize complex information. It also allows us to plan meaningful prevention activities based on local information (a requirement for ACS trauma center verification). Imagine looking over such a map of your city, and identifying a cluster of pedestrian fatalities. Then you notice that this cluster is 2 blocks away from an elementary school. This could prompt you to work with the school to implement automobile awareness programs for the children, have the city review signage and obstructions to view in the area, and optimize the number and placement of crossing guards. Then redo the map afterwards to judge the impact. Wow!


Reference: Using geographic information systems in injury research. J Nurs Scholarsh 39(4):306-311, 2007.