All posts by TheTraumaPro

Trauma 20 Years Ago: Chance Fractures

Centers that take care of blunt trauma are familiar with the spectrum on injury that is directly attributable to seat belt use. Although proper restraint significantly decreases mortality and serious head injury, seat belts can cause visceral injury, especially to small bowel.

Lap belt use has been associated with Chance fracture (flexion distraction injury to the lumbar spine) since 1982. The association between seat belts and intra-abdominal injury, especially with an obvious “seat belt sign” was first described in 1987. 

Twenty years ago, orthopedic surgeons in Manitoba finally put two and two together and reported a series of 7 cases of Chance fractures. They noted that 6 of the fractures were associated with restraint use. Seat belt sign was also present in 5 of the 6 patients with fractures and three of the six had bowel injuries.

The authors noted that many provinces were mandating seatbelt use at the time, and they predicted that the number of Chance fractures, seat belt signs and hollow viscus injuries would increase. On the positive side, the number of deaths and serious head injuries would be expected to decline.

Although this was a small series, it finally cemented the unusual Chance fracture, seat belt sign, and bowel injury after motor vehicle trauma.

Reference: Pediatric Chance Fractures: Association with Intra-abdominal Injuries and Seatbelt Use. Reid et al. J Trauma 30(4) 384-91, 1990.

Chance fracture

Frequent Flyers in the Emergency Department

We’re all aware of the patients that are seen in the ED so frequently that the ER staff know their names, medical histories, and sometimes family members very well. They are the so-called “frequent flyers.” These patients have been characterized as uninsured and on occasion, undesirable.

A recent study analyzed 25 studies done in the last decade detailing the characteristics of these patients. As usual, reality is different that perception.

The study examined data from a variety of sources. The bulk of these studies examined patients being treated at university of public hospitals. Some highlights:

  • 1 in 20 ED patients were “frequent fliers”, and they accounted for more than a quarter of all ED visits. Many go on to become a frequent flyer the following year, too.
  • Half of frequent flyers presented to multiple EDs
  • The majority (60%) were middle-aged and white
  • Almost two-thirds had Medicare or Medicaid coverage. Only 15% were uninsured.
  • Frequent users were more likely to have seen a primary care physician in the year before their visits. They were also 6 times more likely to have been hospitalized after a visit.
  • Use of ambulances was more frequent, and mortality was higher.
  • Children were frequent flyers, too. Parents stated that access to a pediatrician was the major factor, but 95% of kids had a primary care provider.

Hopefully, this study will stimulate more scrutiny of this patient group. The research may give some insight into some of the unintended consequences of healthcare reform.

Reference: LaCalle, Rabin. Frequent Users of Emergency Departments: The Myths, the Data, and the Policy Implications. Ann Emerg Med, in press, March 2010.

Nursing Tips for Managing Pediatric Orthopedic Trauma

Nurses have a complementary role with physicians in caring for children with orthopedic injuries. Typically, the child will have been evaluated and had some sort of fracture management implemented. In children, nursing management is easer than in adults since a child is less likely to need an invasive surgical procedure. Many fractures can be dealt with using casts and splints alone.

Here are a few tips for providing the best care for you pediatric patients:

  • Ensure adequate splinting / casting. You will have an opportunity to see the child at their usual level of activity. If it appears likely that their activity may defeat the purpose of the cast or splint, inform the surgeon or extender so they can apply a better one.
  • Focus on pain control. Nothing aggravates parents more than seeing their child in pain! Make sure acetominophen or ibuprofen is available prn if pain is very mild, or scheduled if more significant. Ensure that mild narcotics are available if pain levels are higher. Remember, stool softeners are mandatory if narcotics are given.
  • Monitor compartments frequently. If a cast is used, check the distal part of the extremity for pain, unwillingness to move, numbness or swelling. If any are present, call the physician or extender and expect prompt attention to the problem.
  • Always think about the possibility of abuse. Fractures are rarely seen in children under 3, and almost never if less than 1 year old. If you have concerns about the physical findings or parent interactions, let the physician and social workers know immediately.

The Tertiary Survey for Trauma

Major trauma victims are evaluated by a team to rapidly identify life and limb threatening injuries. This is accomplished during the primary and secondary surveys done in the ED. The ATLS course states that it is more important for the team to identify that the patient has a problem (e.g. significant abdominal pain) than the exact diagnosis (spleen laceration). However, once the patient is ready for admission to the trauma center, it is desirable to know all the diagnoses.

This is harder than it sounds. Physical examination tends to direct diagnostic testing, and some patients may not be feeling pain, or be awake enough to complain of it. Injuries that are painful enough may distract the patient’s attention away from other significant injuries. Overall, somewhere between 7-13% of patients have injuries that are missed during the initial evaluation.

A well-designed tertiary survey helps identify these occult injuries before they are truly “missed.” This survey consists of a structured and comprehensive re-examination that takes place within 48-72 hours, and includes a review of every diagnostic study performed. Ideally, it should be carried out by two people: one familiar with the patient, and the other not. It is desirable that the examiners have some experience with trauma (sorry, medical students). 

The patients at highest risk for a missed injury are those with severe injuries (ISS>15) and/or impaired mental status (GCS<15). These patients are more likely to be unable to participate in their exam, so a few injuries may still go undetected despite a good exam.

I recommend that any patient who triggers a trauma team activation should receive a tertiary survey. Those who have an ISS>15 should also undergo the survey. Good documentation is essential, so an easy to use form should be used. Click here to get a copy of our original paper form. We have changed over to an electronic record, and have created a dot phrase template, which you can download here.