Category Archives: Abstracts

Coming Up! AAST 2019 Abstract Reviews!

It’s that time of year again. The 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (AAST) is only two weeks away! I’ll be selecting a number of interesting abstracts (oral, poster, and perhaps a few quick shots) to review here.

My focus will be on abstracts that offer new information or interesting insights into old problems. I’ll pick them apart, looking at their strengths and weaknesses. Finally, after rendering my opinion of their import, I’ll list a number of questions for the authors or presenter to consider. Who knows, they may be asked some of them at the meeting?!

Enjoy, and feel free to provide your own comments here!

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EAST 2019 #13: Geomapping Helicopter transports

Helicopter EMS (HEMS) transports are a valuable yet very expensive resource. Unfortunately, many state trauma systems or local EMS agencies do not provide specific guidance for best use. A group at the University of Alabama in Birmingham performed a geospatial analysis of helicopter transports in their area to determine the efficiency of HEMS operations.

This group created a sort of “heat map” that showed the number of transports overlaid on a geographical map of their catchment area. It included HEMS transports over a 6-year period directly from the scene. Drive and flight times were calculated, and the latter also included flight time to reach the scene.


Here’s the heat map showing the entire state of Alabama. The approximate location of Birmingham is indicated in yellow.

Here are the factoids:

  • Nearly 3000 patients were identified, and 1911 had scene locations recorded so analysis could be performed
  • 35% of patients had minor injuries with ISS 1-8 (!!)
  • Median flight time was 58 minutes, and median drive time was only 65 minutes
  • In 28% of cases, drive time would have been shorter than flight time when considering time for the helicopter to reach the scene
  • Conclusion: over one fourth of patients might have arrived at the hospital more quickly by ground ambulance

Here are some questions for the authors and presenter to consider in advance to help them prepare for audience questions:

  • Why include time for the helicopter to reach the scene but not a ground ambulance? Doesn’t this stack the deck in favor of ground transport?
  • Was there any correlation between scene proximity and high ISS? This might have been a reason for calling the helicopter.
  • Did you see any patterns in the low ISS group? This could provide insight into the EMS thought processes. These patients are potentially the low hanging fruit to direct educational activities to reduce HEMS use.

This is thought-provoking work and I look forward to hearing all the details!

Reference: Use of helicopters for retrieval of trauma patients: a geospatial analysis. EAST 2019, Quick Shot Paper #26.

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EAST 2019 #11: Thawed Plasma And Rural Trauma Centers

A massive transfusion protocol must be available at all trauma centers, large and small, urban and rural. In an ideal setting, attempts are made to keep the ratios of red blood cells to plasma transfused somewhere between a 1:1 and 2:1 ratio. Unfortunately, many hospitals do not keep any thawed plasma because of its 5-day shelf life, so they must resort to thawing it on demand. This process is slow and may take 20-40 minutes, so it is often difficult for these centers to keep within the optimal ratios.

The group at the Guthrie Clinic, a Level II trauma center in northern Pennsylvania, tried a novel approach to thawed plasma availability: keeping two units continuously available in the ED for trauma use only. After three days, these units were returned to the blood bank for general use and were replaced with new ones. They reviewed their one year experience with wasted plasma and compared it with the two years prior to implementation.

Here are the factoids:

  • The blood bank thawed 1127 units during the study period; 274 units were placed in the trauma bay
  • There was a significant increase in waste and cost of wasted products
  • Yet the authors did not find an increase in the relative cost of plasma waste
  • The average cost to maintain access to plasma in the trauma bay was $117 per month
  • The authors concluded that the increased waste and cost were insignificant compared to the cost of total blood bank waste (?)

Here are some questions for the authors and presenter to consider in advance to help them prepare for audience questions:

  • What do all the terms mean, like relative cost? I’m confused that the cost of waste is significantly higher, but not the relative cost. Please explain in your presentation.
  • Is the $117/month to maintain access just for the refrigerator itself and any other support hardware or software? It’s not clear if this includes any part of the blood product cost.
  • Why not keep the plasma in the blood bank? Even though it might still be wasted, couldn’t you save the $117 monthly and avoid the hassle of trying to find a cubby to put the ED blood refrigerator in?
  • Why is 3 days your magic number? Did you consider doing a simulation after you completed the study to see what would have happened if you picked 2 or 4 days in the ED instead?

This is a very creative approach to stocking perishable goods that are infrequently used. I look forward to hearing the presentation.

Reference: A novel protocol to maintain continuous access to thawed plasma at a rural trauma center. EAST 2019, Quick Shot Paper #14.

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EAST 2019 #10: Incidental Findings In Trauma Imaging

Every major trauma patient undergoes some type of radiographic imaging during their initial evaluation. On occasion, some incidental finding unrelated to trauma shows up unexpectedly. These incidentalomas add several additional layers of complexity to the evaluation process.

What does the finding mean? Is it important? How do I tell the patient? Their primary care provider? When? Many times, these findings have little clinical significance. But on occasion, they can be life changing, such as the incidental renal cell carcinoma.

The group at University of Tennessee – Knoxville reviewed one year of incidental findings in trauma evaluations at their Level I trauma center. They specifically looked at diagnoses with malignant potential, and how findings were disclosed to the patient.

Here are the factoids:

  • Over 6000 patients were reviewed, and 22% had 1222 incidental findings (that’s 2 per patient!)
  • The findings were noted in males about 2/3 of the time
  • 59% of of incidentalomas were in the chest, and 16% in the abdomen
  • The most common findings were lung nodule (209), hernia (112), and renal cyst (103)
  • Only 60% of patients were informed prior to discharge (!)
  • Trauma registry abstraction resulted in an additional 20% of patients informed of the finding
  • 58 patients could not be located, and in 43 patients there was no documented attempt to contact them
  • An additional 100 registry charts that did not contain incidental findings were re-abstracted and searched for incidental findings. Nearly one third contained incidental findings!
  • If the incidental finding was noted in the radiology report summary, 78% of patients were informed. But when it was buried in the body of the report, only 22% were disclosed.

Here are some questions for the authors and presenter to consider in advance to help them prepare for audience questions:

  • The majority of the incidental findings were in the chest and abdomen. What and where were the rest?
  • What would you recommend for achieving optimal disclosure based on your results? It appears that 20% or so of patients never learned of the finding.
  • What should we do about our registry data? Should we force our registrars to comb all reports for possible incidental findings? Given that one fifth of patients have them (or more) that seems like a lot of work!
  • How has your work changed your practice at UT Knoxville?

This is a fascinating paper, and gives me some ideas for upcoming blog posts! I will definitely be in the audience for this presentation.

Reference:  A novel use of the trauma registry: incidental findings in the trauma patient. EAST 2019, Quick Shot Paper #13.

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EAST 2019 #9: BENEFITS OF LEVEL IV TRAUMA CENTERS

Level I and II trauma centers are considered resource centers in that they have very robust capabilities in terms of surgical specialties and other services. But no trauma system is complete unless there are a sufficient number of potential feeder centers to ensure that quality trauma care is available outside the usual catchment area of the resource centers.

Level III trauma centers have physician staffed emergency departments, solid orthopedic coverage, and varying degrees of neurosurgical expertise (from none to equivalent to a Level I). Designated Level III centers can frequently keep a variety of patients that would otherwise require transfer.

But what about Level IV centers? They are not required to have any trauma-related surgical specialties or even physicians staffing the ED for designation purposes. The expectation is that nearly all patients will be transferred upstream to a resource trauma center. What is the advantage to pursuing designation if you are still not going to be able to keep patients?

One obvious reason is that injured patients will still be brought to your hospital, especially if it is located in a rural area. But surely there must be other reasons, right? The Penn Medicine group in Lancaster PA examined registry data from the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation over a six year period, focusing on hospitals that became new Level IV centers during that time interval. They looked at demographics, injury severity, mortality, and incidence of surgical intervention.

Here are the factoids:

  • Five hospitals underwent their initial accreditation as a Level IV center during the study period, and about 5000 total patient cases were reviewed during their pre- and post-designation periods
  • There were no differences in patient demographics or injury severity before or after designation
  • The transfer rate remained steady at 63% before and after
  • There was a trend toward decreased mortality (p = 0.09)
  • There was also a trend toward fewer surgical interventions before patient transfer, after designation

Here are some questions for the authors and presenter to consider in advance to help them prepare for audience questions:

  • I presume that the observation of trends and the failure to achieve statistical significance are due to the small sample of centers, correct? Unfortunately, this is not avoidable due to the number of hospitals entering into the system.
  • During your presentation, be sure to show the audience absolute numbers and basic statistics for your findings. Adjusted odds ratios are not as well understood by the average brain.
  • Do you have any suggestions for additional research that would help show a significant mortality advantage, since additional registry data will not be of help?
  • How do you expect that Level IV wannabes or existing Level IV centers will interpret this study?

I’m looking forward to hearing this presentation in person next week!

Reference: Early analysis of Level IV trauma centers within an organized trauma system. EAST 2019, Quick Shot paper #10.

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