All posts by TheTraumaPro

Are You Still Using MRI To Clear The Cervical Spine?

There is a fairly robust  amount of data that shows that, properly performed, the cervical spine can be cleared using a high quality CT read by a highly skilled radiologist. This is true even for obtunded patients. Pooled data suggest that the miss rate in this group is only 0.017%. And MRI is not perfect either, missing significant ligamentous injury in a small number of patients.

But it seems that some trauma professionals are still using MRI in some cases despite this data. The latest study on MRI focuses on the cost-effectiveness of the technique. The authors selected patients with GCS < 13 to be their obtunded group, which is probably a bit high. Nevertheless, they used a fairly sophisticated (meaning hard to understand) modeling-based decision analysis using a computerized simulation. This allowed them to compare different clearance strategies without performing large randomized clinical trials.

The authors considered MRI vs no MRI, false results, collar use and complications, MRI use with cost and complications, and the worst-case scenario of tetraplegia. Here is a flow chart of the scenarios considered. (Courtesy JAMA Surgery)

Here are the factoids:

  • The mean cost for followup vs no followup was $14K vs $1K, with no increase in quality adjusted life years (QALY)
  • No followup was the better strategy when the negative predictive value of CT was high (>98%), when the risk of an unstable injury treated with a collar turning into a permanent deficit was >25%, or if the chance of a missed injury becoming a permanent deficit was >58%
  • No followup MRI was the better strategy in all 10,000 iterations of the simulation

Bottom line: Yes, this is a fairly heavy computer simulation. But the reality is that we will never be able to design a large enough study to critically evaluate this issue and have it pass any IRB review. So it’s probably as good as it will ever get. It’s time to stop wasting money and putting obtunded patients in harm’s way by locking them into a relatively inaccessible MRI scanner for 30 minutes just to confirm the CT. Or keeping a collar until until the skin breaks down.

Here is a copy of the practice guideline we use for clearing all cervical spines, obtunded or not. Yes, there is some weirdness with soft collars, which mainly serve as a reminder to re-examine the patient at some point. But note the scan technique and requirement that it be read by a neuroradiologist for final clearance.

Related link:

Reference: Cost-effectiveness of Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Cervical
Clearance of Obtunded Blunt Trauma After a Normal
Computed Tomographic Finding

Electronic Trauma Flow Sheet – The Video!

I’ve written a lot about the downside of the electronic trauma flow sheet. Well, a picture (or video in this case) is worth a thousand words!

I found a nice video on YouTube in which a nurse demonstrates some of the basic features of the Epic Trauma Narrator. As you watch, pay particular attention about the need for significant back and forth between mouse and keyboard, and the amount of scrolling necessary to get to all the various fields that need to be completed.

And keep an eye on the time. Now granted, the speaker has to slow down a bit to explain things. But if you look at how little gets entered in 8 minutes, you’ll get my point!

For those of you out there who have already adopted an electronic product, or are thinking about it, please leave comments here or Tweet your comments/questions!

REBOA At An Academic Trauma Center

Resuscitative endovascular balloon occlusion of the aorta (REBOA) is the big thing these days. I’ve written about this topic in the past, and a number of centers continue to refine our understanding of this new(er) tool.  A recent paper from the University of Florida – Gainesville outlines their experience in implementing this procedure at an academic Level I trauma center.

This trauma program is staffed by a group of surgeons who have considerable experience in guidewire-based skills, fellowship or military exposure, and/or completion of a vascular fellowship. One surgeon attended a trauma endovascular skills course (6 hrs).  An internal education program with a 1.5 hour slide presentation and some hands-on simulation training was developed. All surgeons and residents completed this program.

A retrospective review of their experience from June 2015 to March 2017 was carried out on unstable trauma patients due to hemorrhage. All cases were performed in a hybrid OR with imaging capabilities. A 12Fr REBOA catheter was initially used, but was changed to 7Fr once that catheter became commercially available.

Here are the factoids:

  • 16 patients underwent REBOA in this 22 month period; mean SBP was 97 torr and mean ISS was 39
  • Hemodynamic status improved in 10 of 16 patients to a mean SBP 132
  • 14 survived the initial operative procedure, but only 6 survived to hospital day 30. It appears that all of these patients were neurologically normal (GCS 15+0).
  • 1 survivor developed a common femoral artery pseudoaneurysm
  • The authors made the interesting comment that they also performed 8 ED thoracotomies (EDT) during this period and that there were no survivors
  • The authors concluded that the procedure was beneficial, that extensive training was not needed, and that it should be available trauma centers

Bottom line: But not so fast! This was a very select academic Level I center. The surgeons had extensive wire skills and vascular experience. All procedures were performed in a hybrid room, which is a very controlled OR setting. And they only performed REBOA every 6 weeks or so. 

REBOA is still an advanced procedure, and the average trauma surgeon would probably benefit from some more intensive training to ensure adequate initial skills. But if the surgeon can’t then maintain their skills via somewhat regular practice, errors may creep in. In a group of 6-8 surgeons, each may only get to perform the procedure once a year! Add in some interested emergency physicians, and no one can keep in practice.

The bit about ED thoracotomy is a bit of a red herring. Typically, this procedure is performed once the patient has lost their vital signs. Comparing mortality from REBOA with EDT here is not valid, because it appears that most of the REBOA patients in this study still had vital signs when it was inserted. It would be interesting if the authors shared the outcomes in the REBOA patients who had the device inserted after arrest to level the playing field with EDT.

So what to do? Be cautious and thorough if you are planning to try out REBOA at your center. Do the math. On how many patients per year can I expect to perform this? How many physicians want credentialing to do it? How many procedures can the typical physician expect per year? What is the baseline level of physician training and what additional training is needed? Will I report my experience to a national registry or write it up for sharing?

These are important questions! Everyone wants to play with the newest shiny toy in the toybox. But make sure that when you do play with it, you are able to provide the maximum benefit to your patients with the least amount of harm!

Help Your PI Meetings Run Smoothly

Multidisciplinary Trauma PI Committee is an essential part of all trauma centers verified by the American College of Surgeons. A lot happens in that one hour (or so) meeting. But efficiency hinges on being prepared, and we’ve all experienced meetings where the case presentations just weren’t crisp.  Unfortunately, some of the committee members may not have even glanced at the record in advance, and try to catch up during the actual meeting!

What to do? Here’s a set of guidelines to help your presenters do the best job possible. They rely on advance preparation and good communication with your trauma program.

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Download a pdf copy of the guidelines here

And please comment with your own twists and turns on making trauma PI an efficient and meaningful process!