All posts by TheTraumaPro

Practice Guideline: Chest Tube Management (Part 1)

Management of chest tubes is one of those clinical situations that are just perfect for practice guideline development: commonly encountered, with lots of variability between trauma professionals. There are lots of potential areas for variation:

  • How long should the tube stay in?
  • What criteria should be used to determine when to pull it?
  • Water seal or no?
  • When should followup x-rays be done?

Every one of these questions will have a very real impact on that patient’s length of stay and potential for complications.

We developed a chest tube clinical practice guideline (CPG) at Regions Hospital way back in 2004! Of course, there was little literature available to guide us in answering the questions listed above. So we had to use the clinical experience and judgment of the trauma faculty to settle on a protocol that all were comfortable with.

Ultimately, we answered the questions like this:

  • The tube stays in until three specific criteria are met
  • The criteria are: <150 cc drainage over 3 shifts, no air leak, and no residual pneumothorax (or at least a small, stable one)
  • Use of water seal is predicated on whether there was ever an air leak
  • An x-ray is obtained to determine whether any significant pneumo- or hemothorax is present prior to pulling the tube, and 6 hours after pulling it

This CPG has been in effect for over 15 years with excellent results and dramatically shortened lengths of stay.  However, as with any good practice guideline, it needs occasional updates to stay abreast of new research literature or clinical experiences. We recognized that occasional patients had excessive drainage for an extended period of time. This led us to limit the length of time the tube was in to seven days. And we also noted that a few patients had visible hemothorax on their pre-pull imaging. These patients were very likely to return with clinical symptoms of lung entrapment, so we added a decision point to consider VATS at the end of the protocol.

I’ll share the full protocol tomorrow and provide a downloadable copy that you can modify for your own center. I’ll also give a little more commentary on the rationale for the key decision points in this CPG.

Related posts:

The Lead Gown Pull-Up: Part 3!

Okay, I’ve written about the lead gown pull-up several times.  Here’s how it goes:

I wrote in some detail about when this is necessary for thyroid and thymus protection and how much radiation exposure the trauma team actually gets.

But recently I’ve noticed some members of my own trauma team failing to wear the lead aprons, AND leaving the room when x-rays are taken!

Here’s the thing. Yes, it is important to shield yourself when working in proximity to the x-ray machine when in use. But no, leaving the room is not an acceptable way of accomplishing this! The patient is relatively less attended, and by definition less gets done while several of the team members are outside the room waiting for x-the ray tech to shoot.

Here’s my solution: I make a special announcement as part of the team pre-briefing (before patient arrival) that the lead gown is part of their personal protective equipment (PPE). It is also expected that everybody wears appropriate shielding. We already have a rule that every member of the trauma team MUST wear PPEs or they can’t enter the resuscitation room. And I follow it up by announcing my new rule: if anyone leaves the room because they don’t have proper PPEs, they will not be allowed back in the room. 

Works like a charm!

Related post:

Calcitonin Nasal Spray And Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a major risk factor for fractures in our elderly patients, particularly postmenopausal females. A number of treatment modalities have been introduced, primarily medications. One of the less expensive of these is salmon calcitonin nasal spray. This drug has been used sporadically in the spine surgery community and I’ve always been curious about the supporting data. So I finally looked into it and wanted to share my findings.

The earliest research that most tend to hang their hat on is the Prevent Recurrence of Osteoporotic Fractures (PROOF),  a five-year study from the early 90’s published in 2000. It was a double-blind placebo controlled study involving 47 centers in the US and UK. All subjects received supplemental calcium and Vitamin D daily. They also received one of three different doses of nasal calcitonin or a placebo daily.

Completion rates were dreadful. A total of 1,255 women with established osteoporosis started the study. Only 783 made it to 3 years and 511 to 5 years. Partly, this was due to the fact that the patients’ repeat bone density results were unblinded to the investigators, and the “statistically significant” increase in this value was only about 1.5%. I don’t believe that this is even close to clinically significant. Thus, the investigators and patients may have seen this as ineffective, dropped out of the study, and switched to some newer treatment.

As I mentioned, the study used a placebo dose of nasal spray, as well as 100, 200, or 400 unit doses daily. It is puzzling that only the 200 unit dose showed any statistically significant decline in recurrent spine fracture rate. Since the numbers in each analysis group were low due to patient attrition (about 275 in each group), this raises the question of whether this is a statistical anomaly. One would expect to see some sort of dose-response curve, not just a result only for the middle of the road dose.

The authors concluded that the 200 unit dose significantly reduces the risk of new vertebral fractures in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. And unfortunately, multiple authors and clinicians have taken this to heart without questioning the real results in the paper.

A newer study, Oral Calcitonin in Postmenopausal Osteoporosis (ORACAL), published in 2012, compared oral vs nasal calcitonin in 565 women. Their endpoints were changes in bone density and markers of bone turnover. The oral group had a whopping increase (haha) in lumbar bone density of 1.5%, while nasal and placebo dosing were the same at about 0.5-0.8%. This is in no way clinically significant. And paradoxically this bone density increase appeared to peak by week 24 and then slowly decline.

Similarly, bone turnover markers decreased. Interestingly, of the three markers measured, some were statistically significant for oral, nasal, and even placebo. There was no consistent pattern. And furthermore, there is no way to translate these lab tests into risk for fracture.

Bottom line: Although nasal calcitonin spray is cheap (about $1 per day), there is no valid literature that supports that it decreases the risk of future vertebral fractures. Always remember that there is a difference between what is significant to the statisticians, and what is clinically significant to your patient. Incidentally, between 10% and 40% of these patients had adverse effects from the medication, usually GI in nature. So if a drug has a measurable risk but little actual benefit, is it worth even a buck?

Osteoporosis takes decades to develop and become clinically significant. It is unlikely that a quick fix like a drug, sprayed, swallowed, or injected will make a difference in the short term. The best treatments are free (diet and exercise) but must be adopted long before it becomes a problem.

References:

  1. A randomized trial of nasal spray salmon calcitonin in postmenopausal women with established osteoporosis: the prevent recurrence of osteoporotic fractures study. Am J Med 109(4):267-276, 2000.
  2. A phase 3 trial of the efficacy and safety of oral recombinant calcitonin: The oral calcitonin in postmenopausal osteoporosis (ORACAL) trial. J Bone Mineral Res 27(8):1821-1829, 2012.

The Post-Crunch Debriefing

Trauma centers generally design their trauma teams around the type and volume of injured patients they receive. There must be sufficient depth of coverage to handle multiple “hits” at once. But even the best planning can be overwhelmed by the occasional confluence of the planets where multiple, multiple patients arrive during a relatively short period of time (the “crunch”).

As the reserve of available trauma professionals to see new, incoming patients dwindles, it sometimes even becomes necessary to close the center to new patients. Once those who have already arrived have been processed, the trauma center can open again.

This scenario, while hopefully rare, unfortunately introduces a huge opportunity for errors and omissions in care. There is much more clinical activity, lots of patient information to be gathered and processed, and many decisions to be made. How can you reduce the opportunity for these potential problems?

Consider a “post-crunch” debriefing! Once things have quieted down, assemble all team members in one room. Systematically review each patient involved in the “crunch”, going through physical exam, imaging, lab results, and the final plan. It’s helpful to have access to the electronic medical record during this process so everything that is known can be reviewed. Make sure that all clinical questions are answered, and that solid plans are in place and specific people are assigned to implement them. And most importantly, make sure everything is properly documented. Remember:

“Work not documented is work not done!”

Once you’ve reviewed all of the incoming, don’t forget your patients already in the hospital. Significant issues may have occurred while you were busy, so quickly review their status as well. Chat with their nurses for updates. Make sure they are doing okay.

Then prepare yourself for the next “crunch”!

Related post:

Time for some more philosophy! After providing trauma care for decades, one begins to see the common threads and underlying principles of their area of expertise. I’ve been trying to crystallize these for years, and today I’m going to share one of the most basic laws of trauma care.

The First Law of Trauma: Any anomaly in your trauma patient is due to trauma, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

Some examples:

  • An elderly patient who crashes his car and presents with arrhythmias and chest pain is not having a heart attack. Nor does he need a cardiologist or a trip to the cath lab.
  • A spot in the liver after blunt trauma is not a cyst or hemangioma; it is a laceration until proven otherwise.
  • A patient found at the bottom of a flight of stairs with blood in their head did not have a stroke and then fall down.

Bottom line: The possibility of trauma always comes first! It is your job to rule it out. Only consider non-traumatic problems as a last resort. Don’t let your non-trauma colleagues try to steer you down the wrong path, only to have your patient suffer.