Category Archives: General

Trauma Coverage By Locum Tenens Surgeons

Trauma call coverage is not always easy to come by, especially at Level III and IV trauma centers and in rural areas. Many centers come to rely on locum tenens surgeons to fill gaps in their call schedules. Unfortunately, this can create quite a few headaches.

There is currently no trauma literature on this topic. Other disciplines, most recently pediatric surgery, have some published suggestions (I hesitate to call them guidelines) for requirements and expectations based on the ACGME core competencies.

Here are some of the nuances that any trauma program needs to recognize if the use of locum tenens surgeons is being considered:

  • Board certification – This is a basic tenet of trauma center verification and is absolutely required
  • Trauma CME – Recent changes in CME requirements by the American College of Surgeons have nearly eliminated this need. However, do you want a surgeon who does not keep up with trauma education on your call panel? If you allow this, prepare yourself for some interesting performance improvement issues. Make sure that all locums meet some basic requirement for CME or internal education program (IEP) before they start
  • Dissemination of committee proceedings – Make sure that this is well-documented. These surgeons must attend at least 50% of your required committee meetings. If they can’t make it, they must be aware of all items discussed, particularly if it involves their care. Use teleconferencing, or at least send them a (confidential) copy of the minutes.
  • Responsibility for quality issues – This is the most troubling aspect of using locums. It’s tough to hold one of these surgeons responsible for issues arising from their care if they have left and are never coming back. Make sure there is a mechanism to send feedback about their care even after they are gone for good. And document it well!

Bottom line: In my opinion, the use of locum tenens to cover trauma call gaps is a necessary evil for some centers. They should only be used until a more stable coverage pool is available. The management of quality issues in particular is much more difficult when using roving surgeons. And with the adoption of the new Resource Document (Orange Book), it’s even harder to use them. If you must, use them wisely and only briefly.

Reference: Proposed standards for use of locum tenens coverage in pediatric surgery practices. J Pediatric Surg 48:700-703, 2013 (letter).

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Guidelines for Consultants to the Trauma Service

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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Nursing Malpractice: The Basics – Part 2

What are common sources of malpractice complaints against nurses? The most common event is medication error. Most people worry about common errors like wrong dose, wrong drug, and wrong route of administration. But one less commonly considered drug-related responsibility is assessment for side effects and toxicity of medications administered.

Other common reasons include failure to adequately monitor and assess the patient, and failure to supervise a patient that results in harm. Significant changes in patient condition must be reported to the responsible physician. However, doing so does not necessarily get the nurse off the hook. If the physician’s response leads the nurse to believe that they have misdiagnosed the problem or are prescribing an incorrect drug or course of action, the nurse is obligated to follow the chain of command to notify a nursing supervisor or other physician of the event.

And finally, one of the most common issues complicating malpractice cases of any kind is documentation. Lawsuits must typically be filed within two years of the event that caused harm. Once that occurs though, several more years may pass before significant action occurs. Collection and review of documentation, identification of experts, and collection of depositions takes time. And unfortunately, our memories are imperfect after many years go by. Good documentation is paramount! “Work not documented is work not done,” I always say. And poor documentation allows attorneys to make your good work look as bad as they want and need it to.

Reference: Examining Nursing Malpractice: A Defense Attorney’s Perspective. Critical Care Nursing 23(2):104-107, 2003.

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Nursing Malpractice: The Basics – Part 1

Back in the old, old days, there was really no such thing as nursing malpractice. Nurses had little true responsibility, and liability largely fell to the treating physicians. But as nursing responsibilities have grown, they have become an integral part of the assessment, planning, and management of their patients.

As all trauma professionals know, our work is very complex. And unfortunately, our understanding of how the human body works and responds to injury is still incomplete. So unfortunately, undesirable things happen from time to time.

But does every little adverse event or complication mean that someone is at fault? Or that they can/should be sued? Fortunately, the answer is no.

The law is complex, at least to professionals outside the legal field. Following are the basics of malpractice as it relates to nurses.

There are four elements that must be present for a malpractice case to be brought forward:

  1. The nurse must have established a nurse-patient relationship. Documentation provided by the nurse or other providers in the medical record must demonstrate that they were in some way involved in care of the patient.
  2. A scope of duty must be established within the relationship. For example, an ICU nurse will have duties relating to examining the patient, recording vital signs, reporting significant events to physicians, etc. The exact duties may vary somewhat geographically and even between individual hospitals. Written policies help to clarify some of these duties, but often, experts are required to testify to what the usual standards of care are when not covered by policy.
  3. There must be a departure from what is called “good and accepted practice.” The definition of this leaves a lot of wiggle room. It is defined as the care that an ordinarily prudent nurse would have provided in the given situation. It does not need to be the optimum or best care. And if there is more than one approved choice, a nurse is not negligent if they choose either of them, even if it later turns out to be a poorer choice.
  4. Finally, there must be a cause-effect relationship between the nurse’s action and the patient’s alleged injury. This linkage must be more than a possibility, it must be highly probable. For example, wound infections occur after a given percentage of operations, and it varies based on the wound classification. It’s a tough sell to bring suit for improper dressing care in a grossly contaminated wound that is likely to become infected anyway. Typically, expert witnesses must attest to the fact that the patient was, more likely than not, harmed by the nurse’s action or inaction.

Stay tuned tomorrow for part 2!

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Last Chance To Complete The ED Thoracotomy Survey!

The number of new survey completions is starting to dwindle, so I will be closing the ED thoracotomy survey this Friday at midnight Central time. I’ll pick apart the results and publish them in the next couple of weeks.

I am trying to determine who could and who actually does perform ED thoracotomy across the various trauma hospitals around the world. For those of you who have already completed it, thanks! For everyone else, please take the 2 minutes to finish it soon!

Click here to take the ED thoracotomy survey.

Thanks,
Michael

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