All posts by TheTraumaPro

The Impact Of Radiographic Image Sharing Systems On Trauma Transfers

There has been a big push to implement systems of trauma centers across the US, primarily at the state level. This move to get the right patient to the right hospital has resulted in an increased number of transfers, and rightly so. However, the referring hospital frequently performs some radiographic imaging before transfer.

So it is critical that both the patient and their imaging get to the receiving hospital for good continuity of care. Failure to do so results in re-imaging, additional exposure to radiation, delays in care, and potentially increased costs. Radiologists may be reluctant to read outside images because they generally will not get paid for it.

Unfortunately, there are lots of barriers to getting those images to the receiving trauma center. They may forget to send a disc. The disc may not work on the receiving hospital’s computers. A direct connection between PACS systems may be lacking, or may not work. In any case, patient care may suffer.

Cloud solutions using web-based software and an intermediary for image storage and delivery have been around for years. Their use is inconsistent around the US, mainly because they cost money. A group in Ohio looked at the impact of implementing one of these system on the incidence of cost of re-imaging at their Level I trauma center. Four years of patient transfer data were reviewed for imaging at the first hospital, re-imaging at the trauma center, and charges. The authors compared re-imaging rates before and after the availability of the cloud sharing system.

Here are the factoids:

  • 1,081 transfers occurred during the study period, and 639 (59%) had at least one CT prior to transfer
  • 345 repeat scans were performed on 222 patients (35%)
  • The most common repeats were head CT (32%) and cervical spine (23%)
  • The overall re-scan rate was significantly higher before the cloud service was available (38%) vs after (28%)
  • If patient data was available from the cloud service, the re-scan rate dropped to 23% (??!)
  • Mean hospital charges for re-CT dropped from $1046 to $589

Bottom line: This study is interesting, but could use some improvement. It is older data (2009-2012), from the early days of these cloud services. Centers were a little less facile using them, which may have contributed to some of the soft numbers above. And the use of charge data rather than costs is old-school. 

Re-scanning a quarter of the patients, even when cloud images were available, is just not acceptable. However, this paper does suggest that there are real benefits, as re-scan rates and (presumably) costs should decrease. Radiation exposure would definitely drop, too.

The key to making a cloud sharing system work, or any other system for that matter (VPN, optical discs, etc), is to make it part of your PI program. Every transfer in needs to be scrutinized, and if an image transfer issue is found, quick feedback to the referring hospital needs to occur to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Reference: Implementation of an image sharing system significantly reduced repeat computed tomographic imaging in a regional trauma system. J Trauma 80(1):51-56, 2016.

May Trauma MedEd Newsletter Is Coming!

The May issue of Trauma MedEd is coming soon! The topic? What everyone loves to hate! The electronic Trauma Flow Sheet. 

Here is what you will find inside:

  • Why the electronic trauma flow sheet (TFS)?
  • Human factors
  • Machine shortcomings
  • What to do if you’ve already switched?
  • The real bottom line
  • And what next?

Subscribers will receive it next weekend; everyone else will have to wait another week.

Subscribe now and be sure to get it first!  So sign up for early delivery now by clicking here!

Pick up back issues here!

Where Do Pulmonary Emboli Really Come From?

For a long time, we “knew” that pulmonary emboli were a possible and dreaded complication of deep venous thrombosis (DVT). However, we are beginning to discover that this is not always the case. The group in San Diego decided to see if there really are two different types of PE in trauma, and what that means.

Here’s another VTE paper from Scripps Mercy Hospital, a level I trauma center in San Diego. It looked at 5 ½ years of their experience with adult trauma patients who were routinely screened for DVT. Any of these patients who developed a PE within 6 weeks of admission were evaluated further.

Here are the factoids:

  • Duplex screening from groin to ankle was carried out twice weekly in ICU patients, and once weekly in ward patients
  • Surveillance was carried out if the patient would be non-ambulatory for more than 72 hours, or were at moderate or higher risk for DVT using the ACCP guidelines
  • Nearly 12,000 patients were evaluated by the trauma service and 2,881 underwent surveillance
  • 31 patients (1%) developed a PE
  • 12 of these 31 had DVT identified before or immediately after their PE. Clot was below-knee in 9 (!), above-knee in 2, and in the IJ in one.
  • 19 patients had PE but no DVT identified (de novo PE, DNPE)
  • DNPE tended to be single and peripherally located, and associated with rib fractures, pulmonary contusions, blood transfusions, and pneumonia
  • DVT + PE were more often found in multiple lobes or bilaterally

Bottom line: Like most, this is not a perfect study, but it’s a really good one. It is looking more and more likely that some PEs arise de novo, without any associated DVT. These clots are more likely to be linked to some type of inflammatory process, and have a tendency toward causing more of the classic signs and symptoms of PE. There are still lots of questions to be answered, like do you need to anticoagulate the de novo PEs? But for now, no change in practice. Just be aware that these might not be as bad as they seem.

Reference: Pulmonary embolism without deep venous thrombosis: de novo or missed deep venous thrombosis? J Trauma 76(5):1270-1281, 2014.

Does Aspirin Add Anything To DVT Prophylaxis?

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is an ongoing problem for trauma professionals. Most trauma programs have settled on their own flavor of screening, prophylaxis, and treatment once the problem actually surfaces in a patient. Most prophylaxis centers around a combination of mechanical (leg squeezers) and chemical (some type of heparin) management.

Aspirin has been used for prophylaxis for elective orthopedic surgery, and occasionally in trauma patients managed by orthopedic surgeons for years. Existing literature supporting this has been sparse and unconvincing. But since VTE involves platelets as part of the process, why not have another look?

A recently published paper from Scripps in San Diego looked tried to gauge the effect of aspirin on trauma patients where taking it before they were injured. Novel idea. Can the findings be useful? The authors performed a retrospective, case-controlled study of patients who developed post-traumatic deep venous thrombosis (DVT). The patients were matched for 7 covariates, and the authors looked at an additional 26 risk factors. Those taking aspirin pre-injury were compared with those who were not.

Here are the factoids:

  • 172 cases were identified over the 5 ½ year study, and 62 (36%) were excluded because a matched control could not be found
  • 7% of the remaining110

    patients were taking aspirin (why?)

  • 13% of controls were taking aspirin
  • 7% were taking warfarin, and 4% were taking clopidogrel
  • The mean age was 52, ISS was 13-14, and hospital stay was 7-10 days (!)
  • Multivariate analysis showed a significant protective effect from DVT with a risk ratio of 0.17 (!!)
  • But this effect was found only when used in conjunction with heparin prophylaxis after admission

Bottom line: Interesting findings. What does it mean? First, this is a very small retrospective study. It was conducted over 5+ years, so changes in VTE screening and prophylaxis may have occurred at this hospital. But even so, the finding were compelling. The biggest problem is that we can’t expect people to predict that they will need to start taking aspirin. But the study does raise the interesting question of whether it might be helpful to start taking it as soon as the patient arrives at the hospital. This is one of those thought provoking studies that should prompt someone (hint hint) to design a nice prospective study to see if this ultra-cheap drug might help us bring down our VTE rates even more.

Reference: Aspirin as added prophylaxis for deep vein thrombosis in trauma: A retrospective case-control study. J Trauma 80(4):625-630, 2016.

Potentially Avoidable Pediatric Transfers

Pediatric emergency and trauma care is not readily available across a sizable chunk of the US, particularly in rural areas. Couple this with the fact that many rural emergency providers are not necessarily trained in emergency medicine and may have little recent pediatric training fosters the common practice of transferring these injured children to a higher level of care.

And unfortunately, many of these transferred children have relatively simple issues that really don’t actually need a transfer. Some studies have reported that up to 40% of children sent to tertiary pediatric centers are sent home in less than 24 hours.

Most research in this area focuses on single medical center experiences. An article currently in press looks at the experience of the entire state of Iowa over a 10 year period. The authors looked at all claims data for children between ages 8 days and 18 years. Children who were transferred were compared to those who were not.

Here are the factoids:

  • 2 million cases were included in the study, and only 1% were transferred (21,319)
  • Children in rural areas were transferred 3x more often than those in urban areas
  • Only 63% were transferred to a designated children’s hospital, and 45% were sent to an ED rather than direct transfer to an inpatient bed
  • 39% were potentially avoidable transfers, meaning that they were discharged from the receiving ED or the hospital within 24 hours of admission
  • Two of the top 5 reasons for transfer were trauma related: fracture, and TBI without blood in the head.
  • The cost for potentially avoidable transfers in the top 5 categories was $2 million dollars (!)

Bottom line: This is a very comprehensive study that shows the magnitude and cost consequences of potentially inappropriate pediatric transfers. It was not designed to figure out what to do about it, but it provides some insight for the problem solvers out there. Since we know the top 5 transfer diagnoses (seizure, fracture, TBI without bleeding, respiratory infection, and asthma), we can start to work on systems to provide education to rural providers on these topics, as well as real-time interaction to help them determine the 60% that really do need a higher level of care. Telemedicine will eventually be a big part of this, but most areas around the country are still struggling to figure out the details. Stay tuned!

Reference: Potentially Avoidable Pediatric Interfacility Transfer is a Costly Burden for Rural Families: A Cohort Study. Acad Emerg Med 28 March 2016, in press.