Category Archives: General

Lack of EMS Documentation is Associated With Increased Mortality

EMS policy and the trauma center verification process requires that all trauma patients delivered to a trauma center must have a copy of the EMS run sheet. Two parameters that are commonly used to monitor performance improvement (PI) in EMS are:

  • accurate record of scene physiology (SBP, HR, RR, GCS)
  • request by on-scene BLS for ALS assistance

A study looked at the impact of those criteria on patient survival. A total of 4744 patients from the National Trauma Data Bank were analyzed.

Physiologic data: About 28% had at least one missing physiologic data point, with respiratory rate being most commonly missed. They found that the mortality in the group with missing data was over twice as high (10.3%) as it was in the group with complete date (4.5%).

BLS call for ALS assistance: This assist was called for in 17% of cases. These cases were less likely to involve penetrating injuries and more likely to involve car or motorcycle crashes. Injury Severity Score was the same. Eventual patient mortality was the same for BLS calling ALS and ALS response alone.

So why does failure to record physiologic data translate into higher mortality? The initial response may be that the patient was sicker, and so they needed more intense care during transport with less time to record vitals. However, the researchers controlled for this and found it was not a factor. Other issues that may be a factor are EMS training and proficiency, leadership at the scene and enroute, and available staff and resources, among other things.

The researchers speculate that documentation might be a good global measure of appropriate or inappropriate prehospital care that rolls all of these possible factors into one easily identifiable audit filter. They recommend that this be used to focus performance improvement efforts and hopefully improve survival.

I recommend that the results of this study be taken to heart and used to help persuade EMS programs to get religious about recording complete vital signs and leaving the run sheet at the trauma center every time a patient is delivered. Documentation should be evaluated regularly, and all cases with any missing vital signs should be reviewed closely. Trauma Center PI programs should work with EMS to analyze this data and look for the patterns that increase mortality.

Reference: Lack of Emergency Medical Services documentation is associated with poor patient outcomes: a validation of audit filters for prehospital trauma care. Journal of the American College of Surgeons, 210(2):220-227, 2010.

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Pop Quiz Hints

All right, you’re good! Many people concluded that this was blunt trauma, and that there was something wrong with the diaphragm. Several people went so far as to say it was a motor vehicle crash.

Great so far! But take it one step further and tell me exactly what happened in this crash. You know, speed, direction, mass, all that physics stuff! Final answer tomorrow!

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How To Properly Use Your Consultants

Trauma surgeons often rely on consultants to assist in the care of their patients. Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons are some of the more frequent consultants, but a variety of other surgical and medical specialists may be needed. I have found that providing a set of guidelines to consultants helps to ensure quality care and provide good communication between caregivers and patients / families.

We have disseminated a set of guidelines to our colleagues, and I wanted to touch on some of the main points. You can download the full document using the link at the bottom of this post.

In order to deliver the highest quality and most cost-effective care, we request that services we consult do the following:

  • Please introduce yourself to our patient and their family, and explain why you are seeing them.
  • Although you may discuss your findings with the patient, please discuss all recommendations with a member of the trauma service first. This avoids patient confusion if the trauma team chooses not to implement any recommendations due to other patient factors you may not be aware of.
  • Document your consultation results in writing (paper or EMR) in a timely manner.
  • If additional tests, imaging or medications are recommended, discuss with the trauma service first. We will write the orders or clear you to do so if appropriate, and will discuss the plan with the patient.
  • We round at specific times every day and welcome your attendance and input.
  • Please communicate any post-discharge instructions to us or enter in the medical record so we can expedite the discharge process and ensure all followup visits are scheduled.

Bottom line: A uniform “code of behavior” is important! Ensuring good patient communication is paramount. They need to hear the same plans from all of their caregivers or else they will lose faith in us. One of the most important lessons I have learned over the years is that you do not need to implement every recommendation that a consultant makes. They may not be aware of the most current trauma literature, and they will not be familiar with how their recommendations may impact other injuries. 

Click here to download the full copy of the Regions Hospital Trauma Services consultant guidelines.

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Antibiotics For Ventriculostomy

There is some variability in how neurosurgeons manage ventriculostomy when it comes to antibiotic coverage. The catheter can become a conduit for bacterial infections of the meninges or brain, which can be life threatening. Most neurosurgeons will begin coverage at the time of catheter insertion, but the duration of treatment varies. What is the right answer, if any?

As is typical with most things related to head trauma, there are not a lot of good studies out there. Columbia University published a fairly comprehensive review of previous studies last year to help clarify this issue. They applied rigorous criteria to identify 10 relevant studies (3 randomized clinical trials and 7 observational studies) out of a pool of 347. Yes folks, this gives you an idea of how tough it is to answer good clinical questions from the stuff that gets published.

The study found that the use of either prophylactic antibiotics or antibiotic-coated external ventricular drains (EVD) decreased the number of infections by 68%. This result was consistent across both study designs. The authors could not show that one mode of antibiotic administration (systemic vs catheter coating) was better than the other. About half of the studies used antibiotics for the duration of the catheter; the other half did not specify.

Bottom line: Head injury patients with an EVD should receive antibiotics, either systemically or as a coating on the EVD catheter itself. Although not entirely clear, they should probably be given for the entire time the catheter is in place. Judgment must be used if this will be a long time, because there may be other adverse effects from giving long term antibiotics.

Reference: Prevention of Ventriculostomy-Related Infections With Prophylactic Antibiotics and Antibiotic-Coated External Ventricular Drains: A Systematic Review. Neurosurgery 68(4):996-1005, 2011.

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