Category Archives: General

Falls In The Elderly: The Consequences

Falls among the elderly are a huge problem. Our trauma service typically has 6-12 elders who have sustained significant injuries on it at any given time. About a third of people living at home over the age of 65 fall in a given year. At 80 years and up, half fall every year.

Because of this, falls are the leading cause of ED visits due to an injury for those over 65. What exactly are the societal consequences of all these falls? A yet to be published study from the Netherlands looked at injuries, costs and quality of life after falls in the elderly.

The top 5 most common injuries included simple wounds, wrist and hip fractures, and brain injuries. Although hip fracture typically was #5 in the 65-74 age groups, it was uniformly #1 in the 85+ group. Patterns were similar in both men and women. Interestingly, hip fractures were by far the most expensive, making up 43% of the cost of all injuries (total €200M). The next closest injuries by total cost, superficial injuries and femur fracture, made up only 7% of the total each!

As you can imagine, quality of life suffered after falls as well. A utility score based on the EQ-5D, a validated quality of life score, was lower in fall victims. Even after 9 months, this score did not return to baseline. About 70% of elders who were admitted after their falls described mobility problems and 64% had problems with their usual activities. Over a quarter expressed problems with anxiety or depression.

Bottom line: An array of falls prevention programs are available. They need to be more aggressively implemented to reduce costs and improve the quality of life of our elders.

Reference: Social consequences of falls in the older population: injuries, healthcare costs, adn long-term reduced quality of life. J Trauma (in press), 2011.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Trauma Overtriage: Why Is It Bad?

Back in December I talked about the dangers of undertriaging trauma patients (click here to review). What about the opposite problem, overtriage?

First, how do you calculate your overtriage rate? It’s pretty simple. Use your trauma registry to count how many patients arriving in the ED were trauma activations but didn’t meet any criteria:

(Number of ED trauma patients who were trauma activations
                         but did not meet activation criteria)

        ——————————————————–           x 100
                  (Total number of trauma activations)

This can only be accurately determined if the activation criteria are recorded on each patient. If not, use the following equation:

 (Number of ED trauma patients who were trauma activations
                                     with ISS <= 15)
       ———————————————————           x 100
                  (Total number of trauma activations)

Values can range from 0% to 100%. The usually acceptable overtriage rate is 50-80%. What happens when the overtriage rate is too high? You wear out your trauma team. They are being called for patients with injuries that don’t warrant it.

The solution for overtriage? Change your activation criteria, or add a second level trauma response that doesn’t require as many people to respond. This requires a thoughtful analysis of your existing criteria so you can decide what needs to be changed or discarded.

The danger? More undertriage. Over- and undertriage go hand in hand. As overtriage decreases, undertriage increases. You need to strike a balance so that the undertriage rate stays below 5%. This makes an excellent performance improvement (PI) program project!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Treating Bile Leaks After Liver Trauma

Nonoperative management is the standard of care for most solid organ injuries, including the liver. More serious injury may require operative intervention. Unlike the spleen, however, the liver has a higher complication rate when managed nonoperatively or operatively. One of the more troubling problems is the persistent bile leak. Our radiology colleagues do a great job a draining collections, but what should we do if the bile keeps pouring out?

ERCP seems like a reasonable choice. But does it work? The Shock Trauma Center looked at their experience over a 6 year period. They included both blunt and penetrating injuries to the liver, and found a total of 26 patients in their database. All but 2 underwent an initial attempt at operative control of the bile leak. All but one had ERCP performed within 3 weeks of admission.

They found that ERCP resulted in decreased drain output within 2 days. All bile leaks stopped within 7 months, with an average closure time of 47 days. There were no complications from ERCP itself.

Bottom line: consider ERCP part of your armamentarium when dealing with major liver injuries. Depending on patient condition, it might even be used as the initial approach to controlling a bile leak. If the leak does not decrease significantly or close in a reasonable period of time (not yet defined), operative intervention will still be required.

Reference: Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography is an effective treatment for bile leak after severe liver trauma. J Trauma, in press, 2011.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What Next? An Inkjet Printer for Skin?

Everyone is familiar with inkjet printer technology. You’ve probably got one in your house for printing 2D page images from your computer. Engineers have already taken this one step further and created 3D printers that print objects from computer aided design (CAD) files. Instead of shooting tiny dots of ink from a cartridge, they squirt out tiny dots of molten plastic.

This same technology is poised to change the way we do things in medicine. James Yoo and colleagues from Wake Forest have designed a printer that can print skin. This unit has been redesigned from earlier versions and now uses a laser to scan the contours of the area to be grafted. It then prints a skin graft over the area using different layers of cells.

The Department of Defense is funding this work, which has amazing implications for the battlefield and for disaster areas. Imagine being able to print a skin graft onto a wounded soldier or civilian to reduce fluid loss and decrease infections. In these applications, cartridges of skin cells are more easily transported than freezers of cadaver skin. However, these grafts would be temporary, just like cadaver or pig skin, because the cells would be from unmatched donors. But ultimately, we should be able to prepare cartridges from our own cells for long lasting grafts.

The Wake Forest group is successfully printing 10x10cm grafts onto pigs right now. But think of the broader implications of this technology. Other groups are looking at using 3D printer technology to squirt a variety of cell types to create complete organs. This could eventually revolutionize transplant technology as we know it!


  1. In Situ Bioprinting of the Skin for Burns. Binder, Yoo et al. Presented at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress, October 5,2010, Washington DC.
  2. Presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, February 16-20 2011, Vancouver BC, Canada.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Pneumomediastinum After Falling Down

Finding pneumomediastinum on a chest xray or CT scan always gets one’s attention. However, seeing this condition after a simple fall from standing is very simple to evaluate and manage.

There are 3 potential sources of gas in the mediastinum after trauma:

  • Esophagus
  • Trachea
  • Smaller airways / lung parenchyma

Blunt injury to the esophagus is extremely rare, and probably nonexistent after just falling down. Likewise, a tracheal injury from falling over is unheard of. Both of these injuries are far more common with penetrating trauma.

This leaves the lung and smaller airways within it to consider. They are, by far, the most common sources of pneumomediastinum. The most common pattern is that this injury causes a small pneumothorax, which dissects into the mediastinum over time. On occasion, the leak tracks along the visceral pleura and moves directly to the mediastinum.

Management is simple: a repeat chest xray after 6 hours is needed to show non-progression of any pneumothorax, occult or obvious. This image will usually show that the mediastinal air is diminishing as well. There is no need for the patient to be kept NPO or in bed. Monitor any subjective complaints and if all progresses as expected, they can be discharged after a very brief stay.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email