All posts by TheTraumaPro

Dealing With Trauma Flow Sheet Documentation Problems

Over the years, I’ve commented a number of times on paper vs electronic trauma flow sheet. For those of you who somehow missed it, let me recap. Don’t use an electronic trauma flow sheet yet if you can possibly avoid it!

I look at the flow sheet as having two phases, input and output. The input phase occurs as data is being recorded on the sheet, hopefully in real time as events occur during the trauma resuscitation and its aftermath. The output phase consists of a human reviewing the completed flow sheet and analyzing the events and timing for performance improvement (PI) purposes.

The electronic trauma flow sheet has major problems in both phases. But the good, old-fashioned paper sheet isn’t perfect either. It is subject to problems during the input phase. The most common issue is incomplete documentation. I’ve seen so many trauma programs with ongoing issues in this area, and they struggle to find ways to improve or eliminate the missing data.

Here are a few tips you should consider:

  • Make sure your paper flow sheet is well-designed. Data items should not be scattered randomly over several pages. Primary survey items should be grouped together. Medications must have their own block. Diagnostic tests performed (not ordered) should be in the same area. Make sure that the narrative block that typically has vital signs and free-form text about what is happening is large enough, with enough room to write comfortably. There are so many good trauma flow sheets out there already. Borrow a few to see if your program can adopt some of the organizational concepts found on them.
  • Identify the commonly incomplete items at your program, then redesign the flow sheet to cluster them together in one prominent spot on it. Common missed items include patient temperature, time of diagnostic tests, and admitting destination  and time the patient leaves the emergency department.
  • If you have only a few problem data points and don’t want to totally redesign your form, manually highlight those blocks with an old-fashioned highlighting pen. This only works if you are highlighting a few items. Any more than two or three, and the scribe will start to ignore all of them. The fancy colored blocks will draw the eye and remind them to ask for the data.
  • Perform an accuracy review of the sheet soon after the resuscitation, ideally before the end of the nursing shift. And since the scribes are typically emergency nurses, it should be their responsibility. Not the trauma program’s. The ED nurses should take responsibility for their own work, and develop their own program to self-correct any deficiencies.

Do you have any suggestions or best practices that have worked for you? Please comment or tweet!

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Trauma Activation For Hanging: Yes or No?

In my last post, I discussed a little-reviewed topic, that of strangulation. I recommended activating your trauma team only for patients who met the physiologic criteria for it.

But now, what about hangings? There are basically two types. The judicial hanging is something most of you will never see. This is a precisely carried out technique for execution and involves falling a certain height while a professionally fashioned noose arrests the fall. This results in a fairly predictable set of cervical spine/cord, airway, and vascular injuries. Death is rapid.

Suicidal hangings are far different. They involve some type of ligature around the neck, but rarely and fall. This causes slow asphyxiation and death, sometimes. The literature dealing with near hangings is a potpourri of case reports, speculation, and very few actual studies. So once again, we are left with little guidance.

What type of workup should occur? Does the trauma team need to be called? A very busy Level I trauma center reviewed their registry for adult near-hangings over a 19 year period. Hanging was strictly defined as a ligature around the neck with only the body weight for suspension. A total of 125 patients were analyzed, and were grouped into patients presenting with a normal GCS (15), and those who were abnormal (<15).

Here are the factoids:

  • Two thirds of patients presented with normal GCS, and one third were impaired
  • Most occurred at home (64%), and jail hangings occurred in 6%
  • Only 13% actually fell some distance before the ligature tightened
  • If there was no fall, 32% had full weight on the ligature, 28% had no weight on it,  and 40% had partial weight
  • Patients with decreased GCS tended to have full weight on suspension (76%), were much more likely to be intubated prior to arrival (83% vs 0% for GCS 15), had loss of consciousness (77% vs 35%) and had dysphonia and/or dysphagia (30% vs 8%)
  • Other than a ligature mark, physical findings were rare, especially in the normal GCS group. Subq air was found in only 12% and stridor in 18%.
  • No patients had physical findings associated with vascular injury (thrill, bruit)
  • Injuries were only found in 4 patients: 1 cervical spine fracture, 2 vascular injuries, and 1 pneumothorax
  • 10 patients died and 8 suffered permanent disability, all in the low GCS group

Bottom line: It is obvious that patients with normal GCS after attempted hanging are very different from those who are impaired. The authors developed an algorithm based on the initial GCS, which I agree with. Here is what I recommend:

  • Do not activate the trauma team, even for low GCS. This mechanism seldom produces injuries that require any surgical specialist. This is an exception to the usual GCS criterion.
  • The emergency physician should direct the initial diagnosis and management. This includes airway, selection of imaging, and directing disposition. A good physical exam, including auscultation (remember that?) is essential.
  • Patients with normal GCS and minimal neck tenderness or other symptoms do not need imaging of any kind.
  • Patients with abnormal GCS should undergo CT scanning, consisting of a CT angiogram of the neck and brain with soft tissue images of the neck and cervical spine recons.
  • Based on final diagnoses, the patient can be admitted to an appropriate medical service or mental health. In the very rare case of a spine, airway, or vascular injury, the appropriate service can be consulted.

Reference: A case for less workup in near hanging. J Trauma 81(5):925-930, 2016.

Trauma Activation For Strangulation: Yes or No?

I received a request to discuss this topic from a reader in Salina, KS. Thanks!

Trauma activation criteria generally fall into four broad categories: physiology, anatomy, mechanism of injury, and co-factors. Of these, the first two are the best predictors of patients who actually need to be assessed by the full trauma team. Many trauma centers include a number of mechanistic criteria, usually much to their chagrin. They typically end up with frequent team activations and the patient usually ends up have trivial injuries.

However, there are some mechanisms that just seem like they demand additional attention. Death of another occupant in the vehicle. Fall from a significant height. But what about a patient who has been strangled?

Unfortunately, the published literature gives us little guidance. This usually means that trauma centers will then just do what seems to “make sense.” And unfortunately, this frequently results in significant overtriage, with many patients going home from the emergency department.

Since there is little to know research to show us the way, I’d like to share my thoughts:

  • As a guiding principle, the trauma  team should be activated when the patient will derive significant benefit from it. And the benefit that the team really provides is speed. The team approach results in quicker diagnosis from physical exam and FAST. It gets patients to diagnostic imaging quicker, if appropriate. And gets them to the OR faster when it’s not appropriate to go to CT.
  • Activating for a strangulation mechanism alone is probably a waste of time.
  • Look at the patient’s physiology first. Are the vital signs normal? What is the GCS? If either are abnormal, activate.
  • Then check out the anatomy. If the patient has any voice changes, or has obvious discoloration from bruising, crepitus, or subcutaneous emphysema, call the team. They may suffer a deteriorating airway at any moment.

If physiologic and anatomic findings don’t trigger an activation, then standard evaluation is in order. Here are some things to think about:

  • A complete physical exam is mandatory. This not only includes the neck, but the rest of the body. Strangulation is a common injury from domestic violence, and other injuries are frequently present.
  • If there are any marks on the neck, CT evaluation is required. This includes soft tissue, CT angiography, and cervical spine evaluation. All three can be done with a single contrast-enhanced scan. The incidence of spine injury is extremely low with strangulation, but the spine images are part of the set anyway.
  • CT of the chest is never indicated. There is no possibility of aortic injury with this mechanism, and all the other stuff will show up on the chest x-ray, if significant enough for treatment.
  • Even if there are no abnormalities, your patient may need admission while social services arranges a safe place for their discharge. Don’t forget the social and forensic aspects of this injury. Law enforcement may need photographic evidence or statements from the patient so this event can’t happen again.

Next post: Trauma Activation for Hanging: Yes or No?

Reference: Strangulation forensic examination: best practice for health care providers. Adv Emerg Nurs J 35(4):314-327, 2013.

The Next Generation 3D Bioprinter For Skin

3D printing for medical purposes (bioprinting) continues to evolve, and I’ve written a number of posts on this topic over the past 7 years. Skin bioprinting has been around for some time, but it keeps getting more and more sophisticated. Now, appropriate cell lines for the “ink” tanks can be grown in just a few days, and laid down in layers that are getting closer to real skin.

Take a look at this video to see the state of the art:

The next step: adding hair, being able to print large sheets, and ultimately printing directly onto the body!

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Value Of The “Delay To Operating Room” Trauma PI Filter: Part 2

Yesterday, I discussed a paper that tried to show that the “delay to OR” trauma performance improvement (PI) filter was not cost effective. As I mentioned, I’m dubious that the outcomes and information reviewed could realistically demonstrate this.

Today, I’m going to list the parts of the system that this PI filter helps to monitor:

  • Was the patient appropriately triaged as a trauma activation?
  • Was the trauma surgeon called / involved in a timely manner?
  • Was an appropriate physical exam carried out?
  • If needed, was the CT scanner accessible?
  • Did the surgeon make an appropriate clinical decision?
  • If needed, did the backup trauma surgeon arrive in a timely manner?
  • Were there any transport delays to the OR?
  • Was an OR room promptly available?
  • Did the OR backup team arrive within the required time, if needed?
  • Were anesthesia services promptly available?
  • If a failure of nonoperative management occurred:
    • Was the practice guideline followed?
    • Were repeat vitals and physical exam performed and documented?
    • Did any of the other issues listed above occur?

And you may be able to think of even more!

Bottom line: As you can see, this seemingly innocuous filter tests many components within the trauma center. And even if one particular patient who triggers the “delay to OR” filter is lucky enough to escape unharmed, many of the areas listed above can harm other patients who may not trigger it. Actively looking for these issues and fixing them makes your entire trauma program better!

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