All posts by TheTraumaPro

Financial Triage (Wallet Biopsy) and Transfer to Trauma Centers

A significant amount of volume coming in to Level I and Level II trauma centers is transferred from other hospitals. Occasionally, concerns are raised that some hospitals “cherry pick” the patients, retaining those who are insured and transferring those who are not. If this is true, it has the potential to undermine the entire trauma transfer system by delaying and impeding patient care and by financially damaging the higher level trauma centers. A few single state or single health care system studies have been performed, and some of them have suggested that the uninsured were more likely to be transferred to high level trauma centers.

The group at Parkland looked at a national sample using the National Trauma Databank, and compared the insurance status of patients transferred to Level I and II centers to those retained at Level III and IV centers. Overall, most patients (83%) were insured. At first glance, transferred patients were significantly more likely to be uninsured (18% vs 14%). However, they were also more seriously injured and more likely to have multiple injuries. When adjusted for these differences, the transferred patients were no more likely to be uninsured than the others.

Bottom line: There does not appear to be any concerted effort nationally to inappropriately transfer uninsured injured patients to high level trauma centers. The perception arises because the uninsured have a tendency toward higher risk behaviors that may result in serious injury.

However, it is possible that cherry picking may occur on occasion at the local level. If you are a trauma director experiencing this phenomenon, the best course of action is to speak directly to the director at the referring hospital. Politely discuss your perceptions and offer to see if there is anything you can do to help with their triage process. Frequently, letting them know you are aware of the pattern causes them to improve their transfer decision making.

Reference: Financial triage in transfer of trauma patients: a myth or a reality. Am J Surg 198(3):e35-e38, 2009.

Brain Injury and Chemical Prophylaxis for DVT

Deep venous thrombosis (DVT) and its complications are recognized and common problems in trauma patients, particularly those with traumatic brain injury (TBI). We know that giving chemical prophylaxis like heparin and low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) reduces the risk. Unfortunately, trauma professionals (and neurosurgeons in particular) are reluctant to give it after acute TBI for fear of making intracranial hemorrhage worse.

Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee modified their protocol for TBI patients to allow chemical prophylaxis to start 24 to 48 hours after a 24 hour followup CT that showed no progression of any bleeding. Therefore, prophylaxis could be started 48 to 72 hours after injury. They used subq heparin three times daily, or LMWH twice daily. All others received mechanical prophylaxis and were screened twice weekly by duplex ultrasound. The chemical prophylaxis group was not screened routinely. 

A total of 812 patients were studied, half of whom received early prophylaxis per protocol. The average Abbreviated Injury Score for the head in these patients was 3.4, which represents fairly serious injury. There was a significant decrease in the incidence of DVT in the chemical prophylaxis group (1% vs 3%). More intriguing, there was a lower rate of injury progression in this group as well (3% vs 6%), although not quite statistically significant.

Bottom line: Although this is a small and retrospective study, it was well designed and relatively large compared to most other similar work. It shows that use of chemical prophylaxis works in patients with serious TBI, and appears to be safe. Similar protocols should be considered by trauma program multidisciplinary operations committees to further systematize this process. 

Reference: Safety and efficacy of prophylactic anticoagulation in patients with traumatic brain injury. J Am Coll Surg 213:148-154, 2011.

Related post: Does interrupting DVT prophylaxis increase risk for it?

Chest Tube Tips

I’ve written a lot about chest tubes, but there’s actually a lot to know. And a fair amount of misinformation as well. Here’s some info you need to be familiar with:

  • Chest trauma generally means there is some blood in the chest. This has some bearing on which size chest tube you choose. Never assume that there is only pneumothorax based on the chest xray. Clot will plug up small tubes.
  • Chest tubes for trauma only come in two sizes: big (36Fr) and bigger (40Fr). Only these large sizes have a chance in evacuating most of the clot from the pleural space. The only time you should consider a smaller tube, or a pigtail type catheter, is if you know for a fact that there is no blood in the chest. The only way to tell this is with chest CT, which you should not be getting for diagnosis of ordinary chest trauma.
  • When inserting the tube, you have no control of the location the tube goes once you release the instrument used to place it. Some people believe they can direct a tube anteriorly, posteriorly, or anywhere they want. They can’t, and it’s not important (see next tip).
  • Specific tube placement is not important, as long as it goes in the pleural space. Some believe that posterior placement is best for hemothorax, and anterior placement for pneumothorax. It doesn’t really matter because the laws of physics make sure that everything gets sucked out of the chest regardless of position except for things too big to fit in the tube (e.g. the lung).
  • Tunneling the tube tract over a rib is not necessary in most people. In general, we have enough fat on our chest to ensure that the tract will close up immediately when the tube is pulled. A nicely placed dressing is your insurance policy.
  • Adhere to an organized tube management protocol to reduce complications and the time the tube is in the chest.

And finally, amaze your friends! The French system used to size chest tubes is the diameter of the tube in millimeters times three. So a 40Fr chest tube has a diameter of 13.3mm.

Related posts:

Portable CT Scanning For Trauma Patients

I recently had the opportunity to see a portable head CT scanner in action, the CeroTom by NeuroLogica (Danvers, MA). Today, I’ll give my thoughts on this new technology.

There are 3 major considerations when evaluating portable CT scanning:

  • Patient safety, always at the forefront
  • Usefulness, also know as image quality
  • Financial viability

From a safety standpoint, portable scanning can decrease (but not eliminate) the safety hazards associated with transporting a critically ill patient out of the ICU. Road trips are associated with misplaced/displaced lines, tubes and monitors about 15% of the time. These are lifelines in some patients, and even momentary disruptions can be life-threatening. Some patients are on levels of support so high they are not transportable, so portable scanners offer an opportunity to get diagnostic imaging that would not be available otherwise.

Clinical performance is on par with standard scanners. Resolution is lower, but the diagnostic accuracy and reliability are not different compared to fixed scanners.

From a financial standpoint, use of the portable scanner works as well. The Cleveland Clinic deployed a CereTom scanner a few years ago and found that the unit paid for itself in 6.9 months. For you financial types, the internal rate of return was 169% and the 5-year expected economic benefit was $2.6 million.

Bottom line: This new piece of technology offers significant benefits to patients in the ICU who may otherwise not be able to get imaging due to safety reasons. It can also be employed in the OR on anesthetized patients, which can assist with diagnosis in patients with both abdominal injuries requiring immediate operation and concomitant head injury.

Practical notes: The CereTom is an 8-slice scanner with a 25cm field of view. The patient is moved onto a scan board which supports the head while it is moved slightly off the top of the bed to accommodate the scanner. Current scanner cost is $450,000 and attachment packages for hospital beds are $7,000. One CT technologist can operate the unit, which takes about 5 minutes to set up and 15 minutes to scan. All lines, tubes and monitors must be (carefully) moved to the side of the bed so the scanner can fit over the top.  

References:

  • The economic and clinical benefits of portable head/neck CT imaging in the intensive care unit. Radiology Manage 30(2):50-54, 2008.
  • Review of portable CT with assessment of a dedicated head CT scanner. Am J Neuroradiol 30:1630-1636, 2009.

I have no financial interest in Neurologica, Inc.

Fixation of Rib Fractures

Yesterday, I wrote about nonoperative management of rib fractures. Currently, the majority of rib fractures in this country are managed this way. During the past decade, a number of surgical rib fixation systems have been developed. The question is, when do you really need to consider this more invasive and potentially costly intervention? A review article from this hospital published earlier this year digs into the subsets of patients for whom operative management.

The Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma recently surveyed their own members, members of the Orthopedic Trauma Association, and a number of thoracic surgeons on the topic of operative rib fracture management. About 75% believed that operative fixation was indicated in some patients, but only about 20% or trauma surgeons and orthopedic surgeons and about half of thoracic surgeons had actually performed it.

The proposed benefits of surgical fixation are faster return of pulmonary function, fewer complications due to shorter ventilator time, shorter ICU and hospital lengths of stay, and a faster return to work. This review article found that these benefits were real when the technique is applied to select patients.

The authors found that:

  • The best indication is flail chest and respiratory failure without pulmonary contusion
  • Non-intubated patients with flail chest and deteriorating pulmonary function are also candidates
  • Reduction of pain and disability from symptomatic malunion or nonunion is a weaker indication due to sparse literature support
  • Other factors such as acute pain, open fractures, fracture repair while performing a thoracotomy for other reasons and chest wall deformity are weakly supported by the literature at best
  • There is no clear winner in the battle of hardware fixation systems

Bottom line: Operative rib fixation is indicated in patients with flail chest and pulmonary problems without significant pulmonary contusion, and in those with symptomatic mal- and non-unions. Flail chest patients benefit from early fixation, while the mal/nonunion groups should have fixation later once this condition is identified. Consideration for other indications should carefully take into account the cost, risk, and benefit to the patient. The literature is very weak in this regard, and a great deal more work is necessary to ensure that these techniques are not overused. 

Reference: Operative treatment of chest wall injuries: indications, technique, and outcomes. JBJS 93:97-110, 2011.