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.
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.
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.
Chest trauma is common in trauma patients. Chest tubes are required with some regularity for the management of hemothorax and/or pneumothorax. Occasionally, the amount of blood in the chest is substantial, and when the tube goes in we wish that we were able to transfuse that blood.
Well, you can! Most collection systems have optional autotransfusion canisters that connect to the chest tube inline with the collection system. The canisters are used to collect shed blood and can then be hung like a bag of blood from the blood bank.
A few key points about using autotransfusion canisters:
- I recommend you consider it for any chest tube being inserted for trauma. They will almost always have some blood in their chest.
- If you want to limit use further due to the expense, just add it for trauma activation patients.
- Always add it to the chest tube collection system before the chest tube goes in. Most of the blood will be lost if the chest tube is hooked to the collection system first.
- No need to anticoagulate the blood. Most systems can be used to reinfuse shed blood up to 6 hours after collection without heparin or other products.
- Be sure to use an inline blood filter. There will be some debris and clumps that must be removed.
- Don’t use the blood if it is likely to be contaminated. This most often occurs with penetrating trauma, where a stab or gunshot could injure stomach or colon and violate the diaphragm.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your brand of collection system.
Here’s a picture of an autotransfuser that attaches to a Pleur-Evac brand system.
Earlier this month I looked at outcome differences in insured and uninsured patients at an urban Level I trauma center. A study published last month looked at a similar type of trauma center but focused only on penetrating trauma. Guess what? Same result.
This study was a lengthy (10 year) retrospective look at only patients who sustained gunshot wounds. Only one fourth of the patients had insurance. The in-hospital mortality was 50% higher for uninsured vs insured patients (9% vs 6%). There was no difference in injury severity, and the mortality difference persisted after controlling for age, gender, race and injury severity.
Interestingly, in this study there was no difference in imaging or operative intervention like there was in the LA study.
Once again, it looks like insurance status does make a difference. There are three possible factors: differences in access to care, physiologic differences, and differences in socioeconomic backgrounds. Access in this case was equal regardless of insurance status, and physiologic differences were minimal. That leaves us with socioeconomic differences. These social factors can lead to baseline differences in health which may have an impact on outcome.
The results of this study and the one I previously commented on will become even more interesting as healthcare coverage legislation is phased in over the next few years. The hope is that mortality rates for insured and uninsured will begin to equalize over the following years. The reality may be that it will take longer than we expect due to the time and effort needed to change basic human behavior.