Category Archives: General

Best Of: Abstracts From The American College of Surgeons

The annual Clinical Congress for the American College of Surgeons will be held at the end of the month. A large number of research papers are presented there, and a smaller subset are related to trauma and critical care.

I’m going to spend the next week and a half or so reviewing many of the ones I believe are the most promising. Keep in mind that these are works in progress, and that many will never see the light of print. I’ll take them apart, trying to see how good each one is. Some are very good, some are hopelessly flawed.

I hope you enjoy the analysis! Let’s see if we learn something new along the way.

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EMS: Scoop and Run or Stay and Play for Trauma Care? The Final Answer?

I’ve been discussing the little research there is on stay and play vs scoop and run. And now, hot off the press, we have a paper about the ultimate version of scoop and run, the “drive-by ambulance.” This one looks at outcomes in patients who are dropped at the emergency department by private vehicle. This is the most basic form of prehospital care, with no interventions, just transportation. This type of transport is used by parents with their injured children, police who act as very basic first responders in some cities, and on occasion, gang members.

A multi-institutional group of authors used data in the National Trauma Databank to try to answer this question. They used three years worth of data, comparing outcomes from patients with ground EMS vs private transport who were treated at Level I and Level II trauma centers. Only gunshots and stabs were included, and all patients were 16 or older.  The  authors were focused on only one thing: mortality. This included death in the ED, and a model was developed to adjust risk based on vital signs, injury severity score (ISS), race, and insurance status. Just over 100,000 were included in he final analysis.

Here are the factoids:

  • Black and hispanic patients were more frequently transported by private vehicle, but only by about 3%
  • White patients were more frequently taken by ground EMS, by about 6%
  • Stabs were more likely to be brought by private car than gunshots, 56% vs 44%
  • Mean ISS was significantly higher for those transported by ground EMS (10 vs 5.5)
  • Unadjusted mortality was lower overall for private vehicle, 2% vs 12%
  • The chance of dying in the ED was also decreased in the private transport patients, from 7% to 1%
  • Mortality from both gunshots and stabs were also significantly lower (5% vs 9%, and 0.2% vs 3% respectively)
  • Once adjusted for risk, the lower mortality with private transport remained, with a 60% risk reduction of death. This persisted in the gunshot and stab cohorts as well.

Bottom line: Wow! Although this study has the usual limitations of using a large external database, it was very well designed to compensate for that. And the degree of improvement in survival is surprising. What this study can’t tell us is why. Certainly, some patients benefit from a little extra time to give fluid or blood, intubate, or provide some other treatments. But the patient with penetrating frequently does not need this, they just need definitive control of hemorrhage. The authors even go so far as to suggest that at-risk populations receive education on “scoop and run” if people they know suffer penetrating injury.

The next step is to tease out which components of the stay and play paradigm are the most valuable, and which contribute to the increased mortality in penetrating injury patients.

Reference: Association of Prehospital Mode of Transport With Mortality in Penetrating Trauma A Trauma System–Level Assessment of Private Vehicle Transportation vs Ground Emergency Medical Services. JAMA Surgery, Published online September 20, 2017.

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Is Applying Or Removing That Cervical Collar Dangerous?

Cervical collars are applied to blunt trauma patients all the time. Maybe a bit too often. And most of the time, the neck is fine. It’s just those few patients that have fracture or ligamentous injury that really, truly need it.

I’ve previously written about how good some of the various types of immobilization are at limiting movement (click here). But what happens when you are actually putting them on or taking them off? Could there be dangerous amounts of movement then?

Several orthopaedics departments studied this issue using an electromagnetic motion detector on “fresh, lightly embalmed cadavers” (!) to determine how much movement occurred when applying and removing 1- and 2-piece collars. Specifically, they used an Aspen 2-piece collar, and an Ambu 1-piece. They were able to measure flexion/extension, rotation and lateral bending.

Here are the factoids:

  • There were no significant differences in rotation (2 degrees) and lateral bending (3 degrees) when applying either collar type or removing them (both about 1 degree)
  • There was a significant difference (of 0.8 degrees) in flexion/extension between the two types (2-piece flexed more). Really? 0.8 degrees is significant? Not clinically!
  • Movement was similarly small and not significantly different in either collar when removing them

Bottom line: Movement in any plane is less than 3-4 degrees with either a 1-piece or 2-piece collar. This is probably not clinically significant at all. Just look at my related post below, which showed that once your patient is in the rigid collar, they can still flex (8 degrees), rotate (2 degrees) and move laterally (18 degrees) quite a bit! So be careful when using any collar, but don’t worry about doing damage if you use it correctly.

Related post:

Reference: Motion generated in the unstable cervical spine during the application and removal of cervical immobilization collars. J Trauma 72(6):1609-1613, 2012.

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More on Malpractice: Can Surgical Residents Be Sued?

Respondeat superior. Let the master answer. This is a common law term that allows employers to be held responsible for the misdeeds of their employees or agents.

And more than half a century ago, the “captain of the ship” doctrine arose in surgery. This held the supervising surgeon responsible for everything that happened in the operating room.

And because of these two premises, there has been widespread presumption that surgical trainees are immune to being named in a malpractice action. Unfortunately, this is not true! There is no law that prevents residents from being included in a lawsuit.

So how common is resident involvement in malpractice suits? What are the damages? What are the consequences?  Researchers at the Mayo Clinic reviewed 10 years of data from the Westlaw online legal research database. They included all cases that involved surgical interns, residents, or fellows.

Here are the factoids:

  • A total of 87 malpractice cases involving surgical trainees were identified over 10 years (!)
  • 47% involved general surgical cases, 18% orthopedics, and 11% OB. The remainder were less than 5% each.
  • 70% of cases involved elective surgical procedures. The most common one was cholecystectomy (6 cases).
  • Half involved nonoperative decision making, and 39% involved intraoperative errors and injuries. The remainder had both components.
  • Failure of the trainee to evaluate a patient in person was cited in 12% of cases.
  • Lack of attending supervision was involved in 55%.
  • Informed consent issues were cited in 21%, documentation errors in 15%, and communications problems in 10%
  • There were twice as many cases involving junior residents compared to seniors and fellows
  • Median payout to the patient (and his attorney) was about $900K

Bottom line: At first, I though this was going to be an interesting paper. But it went downhill as soon as I started to read the analysis. Yes, it scanned 10 years worth of detailed malpractice data. BUT IT DIDN’T GIVE US A DENOMINATOR! There must have been tens of thousands of surgical malpractice cases during that time period across the US. And they found only 87 involving surgical trainees!

The authors conclude that this work “highlights the importance of perioperative management, particularly among junior residents, and appropriate supervision by attending physicians as targets for education on litigation prevention.”

This is ridiculous. The mere fact that the authors do not mention the total number of surgical malpractice cases in the database over the study period (denominator) implies that they were trying to emphasize the numbers they did publish. They didn’t want to show you how low the resident numbers were by comparison. On average, 9 were involved in a lawsuit every year. 

How many surgical residents and fellows are there? This is a bit hard to pin down. There are roughly 1200 categorical surgical residency spots every year. And then there are some prelim spots. Let’s add a few thousand more (wild ass guess), so that puts us at 5,000. Include orthopedics and other surgical specialty residencies? Add a few thousand more. And then fellows. Who knows? Add another  thousand? (If anybody has more accurate answers, please leave a comment!)

So 9 out of 10,000+ surgical trainees get sued every year. Do we really need to set up some kind of formal education on malpractice avoidance??? Not for those numbers. Just read, see your patients, especially when they are having problems, document everything you do, and practice good handoff communications. Then worry about more important things!

Reference: Medical malpractice lawsuits involving surgical residents  JAMA  Surg, published online Aug 30, 2017  

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10 Things That Will Get You Sued – Part 3

#7. Inappropriate prescribing

Most trauma professionals worry about over-prescribing pain medication. But under-prescribing can create problems as well. Uncontrolled pain is a huge patient dissatisfier, and can lead to unwelcome complications as well (think pneumonia after rib fractures). Always do the math and make sure you are sending the right drug in the right amount home with your patient. If the patient’s needs are outside the usual range, work with their primary provider or a pain clinic to help optimize their care.

#8. Improper care during an emergency

This situation can occur in the emergency department when the emergency physician calls a specialist to assist with management. If the specialist insists on the emergency physician providing care because they do not want to come to the hospital, the specialist opens themselves up to major problems if any actual or perceived problem occurs afterwards. The emergency physician should be sure to convey their concerns very clearly, tell the specialist that the conversation will be documented carefully, and then do so. Specialists, make sure you understand the emergency physician’s concerns and clearly explain why you think you don’t need to see the patient in person. And if there is any doubt, always go see the patient.

#9. Failure to get informed consent

In emergency situations, this is generally not an issue. Attempts should be made to communicate with the patient or their surrogate to explain what needs to happen. However, life or limb saving procedures must not be delayed if informed consent cannot be obtained. Be sure to fill out a consent as soon as practical, and document any attempts that were made to obtain it. In urgent or elective situations, always discuss the procedure completely, and provide realistic information on expected outcomes and possible complications. Make sure all is documented well on the consent or in the EHR. And realize that if you utilize your surrogates to get the consent (midlevel providers, residents), you are increasing the likelihood that some of the information has not been conveyed as you would like.

#10. Letting noncompliant patients take charge

Some patients are noncompliant by nature, some are noncompliant because they are not competent (intoxicated, head injured). You must use your judgment to discern the difference between the two. Always try to act in the best interest of your patient. Document your decisions thoroughly, and don’t hesitate to involve your legal / psych / social work teams.

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