All posts by TheTraumaPro

10 Things That Will Get You Sued – Part 3

#7. Inappropriate prescribing

Most trauma professionals worry about over-prescribing pain medication. But under-prescribing can create problems as well. Uncontrolled pain is a huge patient dissatisfier, and can lead to unwelcome complications as well (think pneumonia after rib fractures). Always do the math and make sure you are sending the right drug in the right amount home with your patient. If the patient’s needs are outside the usual range, work with their primary provider or a pain clinic to help optimize their care.

#8. Improper care during an emergency

This situation can occur in the emergency department when the emergency physician calls a specialist to assist with management. If the specialist insists on the emergency physician providing care because they do not want to come to the hospital, the specialist opens themselves up to major problems if any actual or perceived problem occurs afterwards. The emergency physician should be sure to convey their concerns very clearly, tell the specialist that the conversation will be documented carefully, and then do so. Specialists, make sure you understand the emergency physician’s concerns and clearly explain why you think you don’t need to see the patient in person. And if there is any doubt, always go see the patient.

#9. Failure to get informed consent

In emergency situations, this is generally not an issue. Attempts should be made to communicate with the patient or their surrogate to explain what needs to happen. However, life or limb saving procedures must not be delayed if informed consent cannot be obtained. Be sure to fill out a consent as soon as practical, and document any attempts that were made to obtain it. In urgent or elective situations, always discuss the procedure completely, and provide realistic information on expected outcomes and possible complications. Make sure all is documented well on the consent or in the EHR. And realize that if you utilize your surrogates to get the consent (midlevel providers, residents), you are increasing the likelihood that some of the information has not been conveyed as you would like.

#10. Letting noncompliant patients take charge

Some patients are noncompliant by nature, some are noncompliant because they are not competent (intoxicated, head injured). You must use your judgment to discern the difference between the two. Always try to act in the best interest of your patient. Document your decisions thoroughly, and don’t hesitate to involve your legal / psych / social work teams.

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10 Things That Will Get You Sued – Part 2

#3. You are responsible for the conduct of your staff

If the people who work for you treat patients poorly, you may be responsible. It is important that your staff have bedside manner at least as good as yours.

#4. Avoiding your patients

Some of your patients may need to contact you, either while in the hospital or while at home. Don’t appear to be inaccessible. This is an extension of your bedside manner. Return phone calls or messages promptly, or have one of your staff do so. Make time to meet with patient families while in the hospital. Remember, you deal with trauma all the time; this is probably the first time they have and it is extremely stressful.

#5. Ordering a test without checking the result

I presume that if you order a test, you are interested in the result. And hopefully it will make some difference in patient care. If not, don’t order it. But if you do order a test, always check the result. If a critical result is found, don’t assume that “someone” will tell you about it. You are responsible for checking it and dealing with any subsequent orders or followup that is needed.

#6. “What we have here is a failure to communicate” – part 2

Most of the time, our patients have primary care providers somewhere. Make it a point to identify them and keep them in the loop. Provide, at a minimum, a copy of the discharge summary from the hospital or emergency department. If new therapies of any kind are started, make sure they are aware. And if an “incidentaloma” is found (a new medical condition found on lab tests or imaging studies), followup with the primary care provider to make sure that they are aware of it so they can take over responsibility for further diagnosis or treatment.

Tune in for the final installment in my next post.

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10 Things That Will Get You Sued – Part 1

Many trauma professionals believe that they can only be sued if they make a medical error and some harm occurs. Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. Yes, this is one obvious way to spark a suit or claim.

Unfortunately, it goes beyond that. Your patient may sue you if they even believe that they were harmed in some way, or think that something untoward happened while you were providing care. Here are the top 10 reasons for getting sued and my thoughts on each (in no particular order).

#1. “What we have here is a failure to communicate”

Your interpersonal skills are at least as important as your clinical skills! You may be a clinical prodigy, but if you are an asshole at the bedside, your patients will never appreciate your skills. You must be able to listen and empathize with your patient. Sit down, look at them eye to eye. Listen attentively. Don’t appear to be in a rush to get out of the room. You’d be surprised at how much more valuable information you will get and the relationship you create.

#2. “Work not documented is work not done”

This is my quote and it’s one of my favorites. Accurate, complete, timely, and legible documentation is a must! The legibility problem is fading with the widespread use of electronic health records (EHR, although this is creating new problems). Documentation, or lack thereof, will not get you sued. However, if you are involved in a suit or claim and your care is scrutinized, poor or missing documentation will make it impossible to plausibly contend that you did what you say you did.

It’s critical that you document every encounter thoroughly enough to be able to reconstruct what you were thinking and what you did. And providing a date and time is absolutely critical. This is especially important when the EHR timestamps everything you enter. Frequently, you will be documenting something somewhat after the fact. Always make sure that it’s not too far after the fact. Document as promptly as you can, and include the time that you were actually providing the service.

And never go back and try to “correct” your documentation, especially if the chart is being requested for inclusion in a suit or claim. If you believe there is an error, create an addendum and explain why the correction is necessary. If a suit or claim has been started, do not touch or open the chart without advice from your legal counsel.

Tune in for Part 2 in my next post!

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What A MESS! Part 2

The trauma season is always officially open. And unfortunately, our patients can sustain mangled extremities in any number of ways. 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:

Ischemia

  • +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

Age

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

Shock

  • +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.