Category Archives: General

Delayed Diagnoses In Children Revisited

A couple of years ago I wrote about a paper that examined patterns in delayed diagnoses in injured children. It was a single-hospital study of children treated at a Level II pediatric trauma center. In that study, the overall rate of delayed diagnosis was 4%. The orthopedic component looked high but was not really broken down in detail.

A soon-to-be-published study looked at more recent experience with this issue, specifically in pediatric patients with orthopedic injury. They specifically evaluated all pediatric patients with bone, joint, peripheral nerve, and tendon injuries treated at their Level I pediatric trauma center over a nearly 6 year period. Orthopedic surgery consults were obtained at the discretion of the trauma or primary service.

How good was their discretion? Here are the factoids:

  • 1009 trauma activations were reviewed, of which 196 (19%) were eventually diagnosed with an orthopedic injury
  • There were 18 children (9%) with a delayed diagnosis, defined as one discovered 12 hours or longer after admission. Most were missed on initial exam or imaging
  • The injuries were literally all over the place. There was no obvious pattern.
  • Six of these were detected on tertiary survey
  • Average time to discovery was 3 days, and the average age of these children was 11 years
  • Children with a delayed diagnosis tended to be much more seriously hurt (ISS 21 vs 9), and more likely to have a significant head injury (GCS 12 vs 14)
  • One child required surgery for the delayed diagnosis, the rest were managed with splinting/casting or observation

Bottom line: Delayed diagnoses happen in children, too. And typically, they are due to a failure in the physical exam. Sometimes there is nothing to discover on the exam. But often times, if the mechanism is fully taken into account and a really good  exam is performed, these injuries may be found early.

I don’t consider an injury found on tertiary exam to be a delayed diagnosis, as long as it is performed within a reasonable time frame (24-48 hours max). It’s a well established fact that some injuries will not manifest as pain or bruising until the next day, or longer. So pick a maximum time interval (but don’t make it too early either) and do a tertiary survey on all children who are trauma activations, have multiple injuries, or have a significant mechanism. 

Related posts:

Reference: Incidence of delayed diagnosis of orthopaedic injury in pediatric trauma patients. J Ortho Trauma epub ahead of print, April 29, 2017.

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Imaging After Chest Tube: Why Do It?

More dogma, or is it actually useful? Any time a chest tube (tube thoracostomy) is inserted, we automatically order a chest x-ray. Even the ATLS course recommends obtaining an image after placement. But anything we do “automatically” is grounds for critical analysis to see if there is a valid reason for doing it.

A South African group looked at the utility of this practice retrospectively in 1004 of their patients. They place 1042 tubes. Here are the factoids:

  • Patients were included if they had at least one chest x-ray obtained after insertion
  • Patients were grouped as follows: Group A (10%) had the tube inserted on clinical grounds with no pre-insertion x-ray (e.g. tension pneumothorax). Group B (19%) had a chest x-ray before and had ongoing clinical concerns after insertion. Group C (71%) had a chest-xray before and no ongoing concerns.
  • 75% of injuries were penetrating (75% stab, 25% GSW), 25% were blunt
  • Group A (insertion with pre-x-ray): 9% had post-insertion findings that prompted a management change (kinked, not inserted far enough)
  • Group B (ongoing clinical concerns): 58% required a management change based on the post-x-ray. 33% were subcutaneous or not inserted far enough (!!)
  • Group C (no ongoing clinical concerns): 32 of 710 (5%) required a management change, usually because the tube was too deep

The authors concluded that if there are no clinical concerns (tube functioning, no clinical symptoms) after insertion, then a chest x-ray is not necessary.

Bottom line: But I disagree with the authors! Even with no obvious clinical concerns, the tube may not be functioning for a variety of reasons. Hopefully, this fact would then be discovered the next day when another x-ray is obtained. But this delays the usual progression toward removing the tube promptly by at least one day. It increases hospital stay, as well as the likelihood of infection or other hospital-associated complication. A chest x-ray is cheap compared to a day in the hospital, which would potentially happen in 5% of these patients. I recommend that we continue to obtain a simple one-view chest x-ray after tube insertion.

Tomorrow: Look at the chest x-ray. Is it a good chest tube?

The next day: What if you placed the chest tube in your resuscitation room and are planning to go to CT for additional imaging? Is it worthwhile getting a chest x-ray, or should you just check the tube with the CT scan?

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Admission To Nonsurgical Service = Longer LOS?

Previous studies have shown that higher hospital costs are associated with longer length of stay (LOS). This makes sense, because the longer a patient stays in the hospital, the more that is “done” for them, and more daily charges are incurred. Obvious savings can occur if we look globally at services, medications, etc while the patient is in the hospital.

But does the admission service make a difference in LOS or cost? It shouldn’t if care is fairly uniform. A group of orthopedic surgeons at Vanderbilt in Nashville looked at a large group of isolated hip fracture patients (n=614) to see if LOS (used as a surrogate for cost) was significantly different. They also tried to control for a host of factors that could affect time in the hospital between the two groups.

Here are the factoids:

  • About half of the patients were admitted to the orthopedics service, and half to medicine
  • Median length of stay was way different! 4.5 days on Ortho vs 7 days on Medicine
  • Readmission rates were also significantly higher on Medicine, 30% vs 23%
  • After controlling for factors such as medical comorbidities, age, smoking and alcohol, ASA score, obesity, and others, a regression model showed that patients were still likely to stay about 50% longer if admitted to a medicine service.

Bottom line: Obviously, this is the experience of a single institution. But the difference in length of stay, and hence costs, was striking. As the US moves toward a bundled payment system, this will become a major problem. The initial LOS is more costly on the medicine service, and readmission for the same problem will not be reimbursed. Why the difference? Coordination of care between two services? Lack of familiarity with surgical nuances? This study did not look at that.

But it does point out the need to more closely integrate the care of the elderly in particular, and patients with a broad range of needs in general. An integrated team with orthopedic surgeons and skilled geriatricians is in order. And a set of protocols for standard preop evaluation and postop management is mandatory.

Related posts:

Reference: 

Does Admission to Medicine or Orthopaedics Impact a Geriatric Hip Patient’s Hospital Length of Stay? J Orthopedic Surg 30(2):95-99, 2016.

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Best Practice: Laundry Basket In The Resus Room?

How do you get patients out of their clothes during a trauma resuscitation? Most of the time, I bet your answer is “with a pair of scissors.” And once they are off, what do you do with them? Admit it. You just throw them on the floor. And sometime later, someone’s job is to find it all, put it in a bag, and store it or hand it over to the police.

There are more problems than you might think with this approach. First, and most importantly to the patient, their stuff can get lost. Swept up with all the other detritus from a trauma activation. And second, their belongings may become evidence and it’s just been contaminated.

So here’s an easy solution. Create a specific place to put the clothes. Make it small, with a tiny footprint in your trauma room. Make it movable so it can be kept out of the way. And make sure it is shaped so it can contain a large paper bag to preserve evidence without contamination.

And here’s the answer:

Yes, it’s a plain old laundry basket. The perfect solution. And best of all, these are dirt cheap when you are used to seeing what hospitals charge for stuff. So your ED can buy several ($14.29 ea on Amazon.com) in case they can’t be cleaned anymore or just disappear.

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