All posts by TheTraumaPro

Trauma Mortality Nomenclature: Part 3

Time to (nearly) finish up this series on trauma mortality! We discussed the two types of anticipated mortality previously, now it’s time for the final (and worst) one.

Old nomenclature: preventable death
New nomenclature: unanticipated mortality

Note the subtle difference. The old name presumes you could have done something about it, which can lead to legal issues in some cases. The new one implies that death was unexpected, but does not presume that it could have been prevented. However, in most cases analysis shows that it could have.

Any unanticipated mortality should launch a full investigation from the trauma performance improvement program. In some cases, hospital quality may need to get involved. A root cause analysis may be indicated, depending on how many factors are involved. These cases must be discussed by the multidisciplinary trauma PI committee, at a minimum. It’s essential that everyone involved do their homework and become familiar with every aspect of care so that a meaningful analysis can occur at the meeting.

Trauma center reviewers will expect to see detailed documentation of the analysis in the PI committee minutes. And unless the death was a complete and unpreventable surprise there should be new protocols, policies and practice changes apparent. If these are not present, expect major reverification issues for your trauma center.

Is there an appropriate ratio of the three types of mortality? Obviously, there is a fair amount of variability. But after years of doing reviews, I can offer some guidelines. Here’s my 100:10:1 rule of thumb:

  • 100 cases – mortality without opportunity for improvement
  • 10 cases – mortality with opportunity for improvement
  • 0-1 case – Unanticipated mortality

If your hospital’s numbers are outliers in any group, your clinical care and performance improvement program will get extra scrutiny. If all your cases are mortalities without OFI, then your PI process is too lax. This is a complex business, and there a many ways to improve our care. If your mortality with OFI cases are too frequent, your threshold for improvement may be set too low (see my previous post). If you have more than 1 or 2 unanticipated mortalities, then there may be some serious care quality issues.

Bottom line: When reviewing trauma mortality, be realistic but brutally honest. We learn from the mistakes we make. But by adhering to the process, you should never make the same mistake twice.

In my next post, I’ll provide some additional thoughts on unanticipated mortality.

Trauma Mortality Nomenclature: Part 2

Yesterday I explained the most commonly assigned type of trauma mortality, mortality without opportunity for improvement (mortality without OFI). Today, I’ll cover the next highlest level.

Old nomenclature: potentially preventable death
New nomenclature: mortality with opportunity for improvement (mortality with OFI)

Again, these sound somewhat similar but they are quite different. Potentially preventable death used to be applied to patients who had obvious care issues that had some potential to change outcome. But it also contained a number of patients discussed yesterday who had support withdrawn due to age or degree of injury. There was some nagging doubt that, it something else had been done, maybe they would have recovered. So several of the “potentially preventable” deaths in the old category have been moved to the “without opportunity for improvement” category.

Unfortunately, a larger group of patients from the nonpreventable death category have moved into the “with opportunity for improvement” category. This is actually a good thing, though. The mortality with OFI category looks at whether there were any care issues, regardless of whether support was eventually withdrawn.

Whereas the vast majority of deaths at any center should fall into the mortality without OFI category, a modest number will be classified as with OFI, about 10%. The actual number depends on how broadly or narrowly an opportunity for improvement is defined. If you consider a few areas of missing documentation on the trauma flow sheet an opportunity for improvement, then you’ll have a lot of deaths classified this way. Concentrate on issues that might have actually had an impact on the outcome. The key is to develop a set of criteria that is realistic and that work for you. If the number of deaths with OFI seems high, go back and look at those criteria and adjust them. You can still work out a system for improving trauma flow documentation without it changing every death in a trauma activation to one with an opportunity for improvement.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss that most dreaded category, the unanticipated mortality.

Trauma Mortality Nomenclature: Part 1

This is the first in a series of four posts on mortality in trauma performance improvement.

The American College of Surgeons has a very specific naming convention for trauma deaths. This is an update of the system used prior to the current Optimal Resource Document (Orange Book), and has actually been revised since it was published. Of course, anytime you change something up, there will be some confusion. I’m going to compare old and new and give some of my thoughts on the nuances of the changes.

Old nomenclature: Nonpreventable death
Newest nomenclature: Mortality without opportunity for improvement (mortality w/o OFI)

They seem similar, right? But the new name takes into account a growing phenomenon: elderly patients (or younger ones for that matter) who sustain injuries that might be survivable, but are devastating enough to cause the family to withdraw support. Technically, the deaths could be preventable to some degree, but the family did not wish to attempt it. The new system recognizes that it is an expected outcome due to patient or family choice.

There are several key points to handling mortality w/o OFI. First, if your center is providing great care, the majority of your deaths  (about 90%) should be classified this way. Every one of them needs some degree of review, whether from just the trauma medical director and/or program manager or via the full trauma PI committee. However, your full PI committee needs to at least see a summary of the death if it’s not discussed in full.

How to decide on abbreviated review and report vs discussion by full committee? It depends on your trauma volume, and program preference. Higher volume centers do not usually have the luxury of discussing every case due to time constraints. Low volume centers may find value in reviewing these cases just to keep up on the detailed analysis and discussion required.

And how do you decide that there is no opportunity for improvement? The key is to look at the true clinical patient impact of the issue identified. If the issue is a minor clerical issue that has little impact on patient outcome or care, it can be classified as being without OFI. But it still needs to be reviewed, closed, and documented. If, however, future patients would benefit from having it closed, you must bump it up to the next category, mortality with opportunity for improvement.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the next type of trauma mortality, mortality with opportunity for improvement. I’ll follow up with the dreaded unanticipated mortality, and end with a bonus post on some nuances to that classification.

Glasgow Coma Scale And Trauma Activation

The American College of Surgeons has a list of seven required criteria that must trigger a top-level trauma activation at trauma centers verified by it. One of the seven involves the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score, and the threshold is defined as GCS < 9.  However, the range of actual scores used by trauma programs varies widely from about 13 down to the minimum of 8.

So I’m curious: what does your trauma center use? Please help me out and answer the survey I’ve posted below. Remember, I am asking for the threshold you use for only your top-level trauma activation. I’ll post the range of answers next week. Thanks!

GCS / Trauma Activation Survey

What is the highest GCS score that triggers a top-level trauma activation at your trauma center?
What is the zip/postal code for your trauma center? (Optional, to help me eliminate duplicates)

Gluteal Compartment Syndrome

Compartment syndromes can occur virtually anywhere a muscle group is surrounded by relatively unforgiving soft tissue. In trauma, these classically involve the calf, forearm, and occasionally the thigh compartments. But they are occur unsuspected in the less common areas they can easily be missed, leading to significant morbidity, disability, and even death.

The gluteal compartment syndrome is one of those uncommon occurrences. Actually, it’s extremely rare, with less than 50 cases documented in the English literature. It is typically seen in patients who are impaired in some manner (drugs, alcohol, stroke) and are unable to move. If they lie in such a way that significant pressure is exerted on the buttock, the full syndrome can develop.

Typical symptoms include swelling, firmness, and pain in the buttock. Neurologic findings are fairly common. Paresthesias can develop late, and pressure on the sciatic nerve can ultimately begin to cause a sciatic palsy.

As with most compartment syndromes, the diagnosis is usually made solely on physical exam. However, in patients with more body fat it may not be as apparent. A pressure monitor can be inserted directly into the fleshiest part of the buttock, and elevated pressures (approaching or exceeding 30 torr) clinches the diagnosis.

The mainstays of treatment are surgical release and physiologic support, primarily for rhabdomyolysis and secondary renal injury. There are two types of incision that may be used. The classic straight line, shown on the right below, is simple but significantly disfiguring. The question mark incision on the left is kinder and gentler, but more challenging to perform properly.

Bottom line: Compartment syndromes can occur in any enclosed muscle group, which is just about all of them. Always be suspicious if your patient has unexplained elevations of CK, especially if they have tight muscle groups or deep pain in hard to access muscles. Err on the side of checking pressures and releasing those compartments in order to minimize morbidity and ultimate disability.

Reference: Gluteal compartment syndrome: a case report. Cases J. 2:190, 2009.