Category Archives: General

In-House Trauma Attendings: A New Financial Benefit for Hospitals?

Many trauma hospitals provide in-house trauma attendings to improve the timeliness of care and to provide housestaff supervision. Frequently, this involves some expense for the hospital. A recent study in the Journal of Trauma examined the financial impact of in-house attendings in an urban Level I trauma center.

Bellevue Hospital in New York City implemented an in-house attending policy in October of 2007. The study looked at the year prior to and the year after implementation. It focused primarily on the number of operative cases performed during nights and on weekends. The biggest changed noted was a four-fold increase in the number of cholecystectomies performed and 1.2 day decrease in the length of stay for those patients.

Using several financial approximations, they concluded that the hospital received an increased revenue of $854K, while the in-house attending program cost the hospital $750K during the year. The study raises a number of questions, though. The average length of stay, even after in-house attending presence, was 5.24 days! It would seem that additional savings could be accrued by working on LOS for these patients, as well as other surgical groups. There were other procedures that were done at night that were not analyzed, so there are probably more benefits to be accrued.

The downside of the in-house attendings performing these acute care surgery cases was that their availability for incoming trauma patients was reduced. There were also questions about the possibility of errors when performing surgery at 4AM.

This study shows evidence that there is a financial benefit to having an in-house surgeon. This will be important to hospital administrators who must grapple with the cost of moving to this type of coverage. However, higher quality financial research of this type is also needed.

Reference: In-house trauma attendings: A new financial benefit for hospitals. Pachter, Simon et al. J Trauma 2010;68(5) 1032-1037.

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Cervical Spine Clearance in Obtunded Patients

Cervical spine clearance in obtunded trauma patients has always been controversial. Most physicians believe that evaluation of bones and ligaments is required, although there is a minority that say that the spine can be cleared purely by radiographs. This would greatly simplify the process and decrease costs.

A prospective study was presented at EAST in January that evaluated the use of CT alone to clear the c-spine in these patients. It was presented by Claridge et al from MetroHealth in Cleveland, and is an expansion of an earlier prospective they performed. Based on the original study, the protocol was revised and the results of this re-study was presented.

The study involved 197 patients who were victims of blunt trauma, obtunded, and were noted to move all extremities. Short term mortality was 13% and long term mortality was 27%, which shows how badly injured this group was. The average ISS was 23 and the initial GCS was 8.

The following radiographic criteria were used to diagnose a significant c-spine injury:

  • Fracture line extending on 2 consecutive CT slices
  • Marked prevertebral soft tissue swelling or hematoma
  • Malalignment not explained by degenerative changes
  • Abnormal facets or posterior malalignment on sagittal reconstruction
  • Occipital condyle injury involving the craniocervical junction

Followup was performed either by re-examination after awakening (62%), followup by phone or chart review (12%), or MRI for persistent c-spine pain (2%). Thirteen percent died before re-evaluation, and 11% were lost to followup.

Using this protocol, the average hospital day of clearance decreased from 7.5 to 3.3, the incidence of decubitus ulcer from the collar decreased from 5% to 0.5%, and the average length of stay decreased from 23 to 14 days. All of these results were statistically significant.

The authors recognized that long term followup was lacking in this study and there was the potential for missed injury. Power calculations show that there are not enough patients enrolled to give a statistically sound result. The issue of spinal cord injury without radiographic abnormality (SCIWORA) is always a possibility.

The bottom line: clearance based on radiographs alone is still not ready for prime time. Some injuries will ultimately be missed, and a fraction of those can cause devastating injury. The real question to be answered is “How many missed injuries is okay?” Until more and better work is done, some combination of radiographic and clinical techniques must be used.

Reference: A normal CT alone may clear the cervical spine in obtunded blunt trauma patients with gross extremity movement – a prospective evaluation of a revised protocol. Claridge et al, MetroHealth Medical Center. Presented at the 23rd Annual Scientific Assembly of the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma, January 2010.

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Don’t Get Lateral View Chest Xrays to Diagnose Pneumothorax

Pneumothorax is typically diagnosed radiographically. Significant pneumothoraces show up on chest xray, and even small ones will show up on CT.

Typically, a known pneumothorax is followed only with conventional chest xray. If the patient condition permits, these should be performed using the classic technique (upright, PA, tube 72" away). Unfortunately, physicians are used to ordering the chest xray as a bundle of both the PA and lateral views. 

The lateral chest xray adds absolutely no useful information. The shoulder structures are in the way, and they obstruct a clear view of the lung apices, which is where the money is for detecting a simple pneumothorax. The xray below is of a patient with a small apical pneumothorax. There is no evidence of it on this lateral view.

Bottom line: only order PA views (or AP views in patients who can’t stand up) to follow simple pneumothoraces.

Lateral chest xray

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Chest tube collection system gone bad!

This unit has been knocked over. Note the blood in both collection columns on the right. In this case, the water seal and pressure chambers have also been compromised (area on the left). 

Collection systems that have been knocked over frequently malfunction and should be changed immediately! (It’s also impossible to accurately measure tube output after this happens)

Compromised collection system

Closeup of compromised system

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Penetrating Injuries to the Extremities

Simple penetrating injuries to the arms and legs are often over-treated with invasive testing and admission for observation. Frequently, these injuries can be rapidly evaluated and disposed of using physical examination skills alone.

Stabs and low velocity gunshots (no rifles or shotguns, please) should be thoroughly examined. This includes an examination of the entire, unclothed body. If this is not carried out, there is a risk that additional penetrating injuries may be missed.

For gunshots, look at the wounds and the estimated trajectory to try to demonstrate that the object stayed clear of neurovascular structures. This exam is imprecise, and must be accompanied by a full neurovascular exam and evaluation of the bones and joints. If there is any doubt regarding bony involvement, plain radiographs with entry markers should be performed. Any abnormal findings will require more in-depth evaluation and inpatient admission.

If the exam is negative but the trajectory is “in proximity” to a major vessel, an arterial pressure index (API) should be measured. This test involves the calculation of the ratio of the systolic pressure in the injured extremity to the contralateral uninjured extremity. It should not be confused with the ankle brachial index (ABI) which compares the systolic pressure in the ipsilateral uninjured arm  or leg.

The magic ratio is 0.9. If the API is less than this, there is some likelihood that a vascular injury is present. If the API is higher, there is virtually no chance of injury.

The final test that must be performed before discharge is a function test. If the injured extremity is too painful to use or walk on, the patient may need to be admitted for pain management and therapy. Patients managed in this way can avoid arteriography, CT angiography or admission and save thousands of dollars in hospital charges.

Reference: Journal Am Coll Surgeons 2009;209:740-5.

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