Category Archives: General

Repeat Imaging: What Good Is It?

I’ve written previously about how often imaging gets repeated once a trauma patient gets transferred to a trauma center (click here). There are many reasons, including clinical indications, need for advanced imaging (reconstructions), or lack of contrast. But at least 20% have to be repeated because the media is incompatible or not sent with the patient. Sounds like a problem, but is it a significant one?

A recent retrospective analysis of about 2,000 transfers to a Level I center looked at the reasons for repeat imaging and changes in outcome due to it. The paper found several interesting things:

  • Repeat imaging was more likely in more severely injured patients
  • Hospitals that transferred more patients to the trauma center tended to do more scans before transfer
  • Patients who had repeat imaging stayed in the ED longer waiting for definitive disposition
  • Repeat images did not improve outcomes (LOS, DC home, mortality)
  • A rough estimate of $354 more in charges was attributed to repeat imaging

Bottom line: Repeat imaging is wasteful, expensive and increases time in the ED. And don’t forget about the radiation exposure. With all the emphasis on pushing hospitals to use an electronic medical record, there needs to be a similar push to standardize methods for transferring radiographic images between hospitals to address the problem of repeat imaging.

Related posts:

Reference: Repeat imaging in trauma transfers: A retrospective analysis of computed tomography scans repeated upon arrival to a Level I trauma center. J Trauma 72(5):1255-1262, 2012.

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Clearing The Cervical Spine – Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about our algorithm for clearing the cervical spine in an adult with normal mental status. Today, I’ll go over our protocol for obtunded patients. You can download it using the link below.

Here are the key points:

  • MRI is the cornerstone of definitive evaluation of the ligaments once a normal CT spine study has been obtained
  • There is no time limit for getting the MRI
  • Spondylosis or degenerative changes are a red flag if MRI is not possible; the spine service must always be involved if either of these are present

Related posts:

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Clearing The Cervical Spine – Part 1

My center is in the process of updating our cervical spine clearance protocols, and I wanted to share this work with you to help those who may be doing the same. Today, I’ll review our new clearance method for patients with normal mental status. Tomorrow I’ll go over the protocol for patients who are obtunded.

Here are the key points:

  • Clinical clearance is acceptable except in patients with a high risk mechanism (see link to YouTube video below for clinical clearance technique)
  • If risk factors are present or exam is abnormal, we use our Blunt Trauma Imaging Protocol to order the appropriate imaging study (see link below)
  • If clearance efforts fail but radiographs are normal, upright plain images are obtained to evaluate stability
  • Flexion/extension xrays are no longer used
  • Patients with an abnormal exam but normal radiographs may be discharged with a soft collar and re-evaluated in a week.

Many of you know my opinion on soft collars (see link below). However, they do serve a purpose here. The protocol will demonstrate that if the patient potentially has an injury, it is stable. Unstable injuries will have been identified and referred to a spine specialist. The collar reminds the patient to voluntarily limit their neck motion to reasonable amounts until they are re-evaluated. And it is also inexpensive, does not lead to skin breakdown, and has much better patient compliance.

Related posts:

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OTA Open Fracture Classification System

Yesterday, I wrote about the classic Gustilo and Anderson open fracture classification system. Today, I’ll explain the newer classification system proposed by the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA).

The OTA developed this system using both good and not so good methodology: literature review and panel consensus. It offered an opportunity to refine definitions to try to make the system as useful as possible. It evaluates 5 pathoanatomic factors and provides 3 subgroupings for each factor. Here’s the rundown:


  1. Can be approximated
  2. Cannot be approximated
  3. Degloved


  1. No appreciable muscle necrosis, or some injury with function intact
  2. Loss of muscle but remains functional, or localized necrosis in injured area that requires excision
  3. Dead muscle, loss of function, partial or complete compartment excision, complete disruption of muscle-tendon unit, muscle injury not approximatable


  1. No injury
  2. Injury, no ischemia
  3. Injury with distal ischemia


  1. None or minimal
  2. Surface, easily removed and not embedded in deeper tissues
  3. a. embedded in bone or deep tissues, b. high risk environment (feces, contaminated water, etc.)

Bone loss:

  1. None
  2. Bone loss, but still some contact between proximal and distal fragments
  3. Segmental bone loss

The authors recommend using this classification at the end of the surgical debridement for best accuracy. It was also disigned for simplicity to reduce variability between raters. 

Bottom line: Although it looks a bit clunky, this new OTA open fracture scoring system looks to be an improvement over the good old G&A. Expect to begin seeing research papers using this system in the near future. But it will take some time to build up the depth of experience with this system to be able to make good predictions on outcomes.

Related post: 

Reference: A new classification scheme for open fractures. J orthop Trauma 24(8):457-465, 2010.

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G&A Open Fracture Classification System

The Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) Open Fracture Study Group has published a proposal for an updated system for classification of open fractures. So far, I don’t know of anyone who is actually using the new system, but I wanted to publicize it for your comments. Today, I’ll discuss the current classification standard in most trauma centers. Tomorrow, I’ll review the newly proposed one.

The most widely used system was developed by Gustilo and Anderson (G&A), with work starting in 1969. A number of modifications have been made over the years. Here’s the current classification system:

  • Grade I: Clean wound, <1cm in length
  • Grade II: Wound >1cm, but no extensive soft tissue injury, flaps or avulsions
  • Grade III: Extensive soft tissue laceration or damage, or open segmental fracture. Three subtypes were later developed:
  • Grade IIIa: Adequate periosteal coverage of the fracture
  • Grade IIIb: Extensive soft tissue loss, periosteal stripping, bone damage. Usually includes massive contamination.
  • Grade IIIc: Vascular injury requiring repair, regardless of degree of soft tissue injury

A few minor modifications have been made by others over the years, but they are not in general use. 

So what’s the problem with G&A? Here are a few. Is the injury classified before or after debridement? Preop classification or intraop? Can you use this system for treatment when it is already based on treatment? How reproducible is it? Is there good data on outcomes? Do outcomes rely on other factors, such as the level of trauma hospital treating the fracture? To name a few. In it’s favor, it is in widespread use and nearly all orthopaedic surgeons are well versed in it.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss how the new OTA system addresses some of the shortcomings in the G&A system.

Related posts:


  • Prevention of infection in the treatment of one thousand and twenty-five open fractures of long bones: Retrospective and prospective analyses. J Bone Joint Surg Am 58:453–8, 1976.
  • Problems in the management of type III (severe) open fractures: A new classification of type III open fractures. J Trauma  24:742–6, 1984.
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