Category Archives: General

Sleepiness and Car Crashes

There are generally about 30,000 deaths from car crashes each year. An analysis by the AAA shows that drowsiness is a factor in about 1/6 of them! In the early 1990’s, NHTSA looked at this problem and found only about 4% of fatal crashes were due to sleepiness.

What gives? Is everybody suddenly a lot sleepier these days? It’s actually due to the way it is reported. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to figure out if fatigue was the cause after the fact in a fatal crash. The driver certainly can’t tell you. 

AAA looked at crash rates and applied information it obtained from a driver survey it administered. They found that 41% of drivers admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel at some point. And one in ten admitted to it happening in the past year. The AAA believes that their estimates are far more accurate than the lower NHTSA numbers. 

Sometimes our patients tell us that they think they may have fallen asleep at the wheel. You should assume it in anyone who is driving home after a long shift, especially early in the morning. 

Educate your patients about the warning signs of fatigue while driving. Everyone knows the obvious ones: droopy eyes, frequent daydreams, drifting in and out of lanes. But here are some of the not so obvious:

  • Difficulty remembering the last few miles driven
  • Frequent yawning
  • Restlessness, irritability or aggressiveness
  • Frequent scratching and rubbing

Once fatigue becomes a factor, the driver is not only a danger to themselves, but to everyone else on the road as well. The solution: pull off as soon as practical and call for assistance. Caffeinated drinks are overrated and take too long to work!

Sources: American Automotive Association, NHTSA, National Sleep Foundation


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Communicating With Our Patients

Although you may not agree with this at first, communicating with our patients is one of the most important things we do as trauma professionals. You can be the “best” doctor, nurse or paramedic in the world, but if you can’t communicate well your patients will have nothing good to say about your care of them.

The most important skill needed for good communication is empathy. You need to be able to put yourself in their position. Imagine what you would want if you were on the receiving end of the information you are about to deliver. What would you say if you were talking to your spouse, your mother, or your child?

Next, think about what kinds of things they would want to know. In trauma, they obviously want to know information about the injuries. Patients and families also need to hear about the short term and long term plans. What’s going to happen in the next few hours? Will surgery be needed? When? How long will I be in the hospital? How long will I be out of work?

Many of these questions are difficult to answer at the time of admission after trauma. If you don’t know or it’s impossible to determine, say so. Experienced clinicians can make some pretty good guesses, but should always qualify their answers. You should make it clear that you are giving an estimate, and that things may very well change. Also explain that as these changes occur and time passes, you will give better estimates.

One of the most important things to remember is the “keep it simple” mandate. Our patients and their families are smart. Although they may not know the lingo that we are familiar with, they can grasp the concepts of what is happening. Be careful to keep your explanations understandable, and don’t make the mistake of using any complicated medical terms. Imagine the surprise of the patient when they find out what “we’re going to insert a Foley catheter now, sir” really means. Also keep in mind that the patients and their families are stressed, and may not be able to concentrate on or remember everything you say. Repetition is good in these situations.

Communication after major trauma is challenging. Remember, if the families don’t get what you’re saying, it’s your fault, not theirs.

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Up In The Air: Tree Stand Injuries

Deer hunting season is upon us, so it’s time for emergency departments to start seeing an increase in hunting injuries. Although you would think this would mean accidental gunshot wounds, that is not the case. The most common hunting injury in deer season is a fall from a tree stand.

Tree stands typically allow a hunter to perch 10 to 30 feet above the ground and wait for game to wander by. They are more frequently used in the South and Midwest, usually for deer hunting. A recent descriptive study by the Ohio State University Medical Center looked at hunting related injury patterns at two trauma centers.

Half of the patients with hunting-related injuries fell, and 92% of these were tree stand falls. 29% were gunshots. The authors found only 3% were related to alcohol, although this seem very low compared to our experience in Minnesota.

Most newer commercial tree stands are equipped with a safety harness. The problem is that many hunters do not use it. And don’t look for comparative statistics anytime soon. There are no national reporting standards.

The image on the left is a commercial tree stand. The image on the right is a do-it-yourself tree stand (not recommended). Remember: gravity always wins!

Commercial tree stand Do-it-yourself tree stand

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Trauma Undertriage: Why Is It Bad?

Trauma centers look at over- and undertriage rates as part of their performance improvement programs. Both are undesirable for a number of reasons. I’ll focus on undertriage today, why it happens and what can be done about it.

Undertriage in trauma care refers to the situation where a patient who meets criteria for a trauma activation does not get one. First, calculate your “magic number”, the number of patients who should have been trauma activations.

If you track the exact triage criteria met at your hospital, it is calculated as follows:

 Magic Number = (Number of ED trauma patients who met activation criteria
                                           but were not trauma activations)

If you don’t track the triage criteria, you can use ISS>15 as a surrogate to identify those patients who had severe enough injuries that should have triggered an activation. This is not as accurate, because you can’t know the ISS when the patient comes in, but it will do in a pinch. In that case, the magic number is:

Magic Number = (Number of ED trauma patients with ISS>15
                                           but were not trauma activations)

Your undertriage rate is then calculated as follows

                                        Magic Number
        ———————————————————–    x 100
                   Total number of trauma patients seen in ED

Undertriage is bad because patients who have serious injuries are not met by the full trauma team, and would benefit from the extra manpower and speed possible with an activation.

The most common causes for undertriage are:

  • Failure to apply activation criteria
  • Criteria are too numerous or confusing
  • Injuries or mechanism information is missed or underappreciated

Undertriage rates can range from 0% to infinity (if you never activate your trauma team). A general rule is to try to keep it below 5%.

If your overtriage rate is climbing past the 5% threshold, identify every patient who meets the ISS criterion and do a complete ED flow review as concurrently as possible. Look at their injuries/mechanism and your criteria. If the criteria are not on your activation list, consider adding them. If the criterion is there, then look at the process by which the activation gets called. Typically the ED physicians and nurses will be able to clarify the problem and help you get it solved. 

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What INR is Safe for Ventriculostomy Placement?

Intracranial pressure monitoring has been shown to benefit patients with severe brain injuries. Neurosurgeons are reluctant to place these invasive monitors in patients with abnormal coagulation studies, and many times expect the coags to be completely normal. Is this reasonable? Brain injury itself can raise the INR. When is it safe to place one of these monitors?

Researchers at the University of Alabama – Birmingham performed a retrospective review of their experience with 71 patients who underwent ventriculostomy with a range of INR values. None of these patients were on warfarin. Eighty one ventriculostomies were performed after an average of 1.5 attempts. They looked at the incidence of new hemorrhage seen on CT after placement. They found:

  • Patients with an INR < 1.2 had a 9% incidence
  • Patients with an INR from 1.2 to 1.4 had a 4 % incidence
  • Patients with an INR > 1.4 had an 8% incidence

If the neurosurgeon, is unwilling to place the ventriculostomy until the INR is normalized, there may be several additional sources of morbidity:

  • Additional brain injury that is not known and treated due to the lack of an ICP monitor
  • Potential infectious and other complications (transfusion reaction, TRALI) from plasma administration
  • Cost for the transfusion products

The patients who did have hemorrhage generally had a small focal area. The one significant hemorrhage occurred in a patient on clopidogrel (Plavix). 

Bottom line: The numbers are small, and this is retrospective work. Based on their study, the authors are comfortable placing ventriculostomies in patients not on Coumadin with an INR up to 1.6 without plasma administration beforehand. Colpidogrel should be considered as a separate risk factor.

Reference: The relationship between INR and development of hemorrhage with placement of ventriculostomy. Bauer DF et al. J Trauma, in Press Aug 27, 2010.

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